Pri$on$ for $ale

By David Wilson

Director, Ashley Hunt, remembers reading a New York Times article, "They were analyzing a juvenile prison and uncovered gross human rights violations, and being a privatized prison, the focus was profits rather than helping to rehabilitate the children who are thrown behind bars." Hunt's interest in privatization of prisons and the prison industry grew and lead him to making, Corrections, perhaps the most controversial film at Slamdance this year. From his first-class documentary, one can see that the corruption in our penal system isn't anything new, but is getting progressively worse. Corrections is a daring critique of capitalism and how it impacts minorities and victims of poverty.

"After the Civil War the US South had a large problem-their primary labor resource had been a free one-slave labor," says Hunt, "White southerners felt extremely threatened by the notion of 'free blacks'. As a result, criminal codes were expanded in order to target the newly emancipated men, women and children."

Corrections exposes the fact that the Civil War never truly abolished slavery. Almost immediately following the war, politicians and corporations were already finding ways to re-enslave newly liberated African-Americans. At a time when most African-Americans had no land, laws were passed prohibiting vagrancy. In addition, the Thirteenth Amendment passed, outlawing slavery in all cases except when people were convicted of crimes. With the new laws outlawing vagrancy, many African-Americans found themselves criminalized and held behind bars. Southern states began leasing their African-American convicts out to private businesses; often back to the same plantation owners they had just been freed from. Atrocious as it sounds, none of what happened after the Civil War could foreshadow the mass institutionalized-slavery that was to come in today's privatized prison industry. "If you look at history, before the 60's we still used far more rehabilitative measures to lower crime than we do today," explains Hunt, "Right now, our government is wasting millions of tax dollars to lock people up, yet spending little funds to prevent crime and rehabilitate criminals."

Since prisoners in privatized prisons labor for free to keep their prisons running (such as kitchen and janitorial labor), and since these privatized prisons can charge states $30 to $60 per bed per day, they are making a huge profit.

"It's legalized slavery," claims Hunt.

Due to the powerful lobbying efforts of the corporate prisons, the masses in the US appear to be convinced that increased sentences are essential for reduction of crime-which according to Hunt, doesn't add up.

"The 'tough on crime' ideology assumes that people commit crime because laws aren't strict enough," Hunt continues, "People commit crimes out of poverty, rage, ignorance, drug addiction and even mental illness, but I have yet to see a convict who committed acrime because a law wasn't strict enough."

Hunt makes a good point, and the statistics are in his favor. As sentences for nonviolent crime increased, crime and incarceration increased. Since 1970, prison population growth increased 614%. Today, the U.S. has a higher rate of incarceration than any other country in the world-some experts claim the highest in history.

"Prisons are factories for crime-not a solution," Hunt continues, "Many prisoners will be locked up again and again, oftentimes for the same crimes, because the prisons do little or nothing to rehabilitate them-which is the only way to insure consistent growth and profit for the privatized prison business."

Judging from the facts, the privatized prison industry is big business-a 50 billion dollar industry that thrives on putting people behind bars and free labor.

Right now, the prison industry is targeting children, which leaves human rights groups in a panic.

"It's really sad," says Hunt, "Our government won't sufficiently increase funding for public schools or build decent recreational facilities, but they will spend millions of tax dollars on juvenile prisons."

Exploiting the "do-the-adult-crime-do-the-adult-time" rhetoric, the juvenile prison industry is booming, targeting children at ages as young as 9. To keep profits high, these young victims of the prison business are often malnourished and physically abused. Human rights organizations have documented cases of children with ruptured eardrums, resulting from blows to their heads. Cuts and bruises seem commonplace. Cases of sexual abuse are also documented.

When asked by Human Rights Watch what they wanted to change about the juvenile prison in Tallulah, the children responded, "We'd like for the guards to stop hitting us, and we'd like more food."

"The privatized prison industry is not concerned with addressing the real problems that cause crime or reducing crime," explains Hunt, "What they are concerned with is their shareholders and continuing to make a profit."

See this film and brace yourself to be forever changed in the way you view criminals, prisons and our government in general.

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