Is Trump Preparing a Wave of Mass Criminalization?
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said ‘future needs’ were behind the reason to reversal Obama’s ban on the DoJ’s use of private prisons, but Black Agenda Report’s Glen Ford points out that violent crime is currently on the decline
EDDIE CONWAY: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Eddie Conway, coming to you from Baltimore.
Recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has rescinded an order, that President Obama gave six months ago, to end the Department of Justice use of private prisons. Sessions claims that there is going to be a continuing rise in crime, and these private prisons are needed.
Here to, kind of like, unwrap this, and explain it to us, is Glen Ford. Glen Ford is the Executive Editor of The Black Agenda Report, and also the author of, “The Big Lie”. Thanks for joining me, Glen.
GLEN FORD: Thanks for having me.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay, tell us what this new order is, that Sessions just put out.
GLEN FORD: Well, actually we don’t know for sure, and it’s subject to great interpretation, because it was a very terse order, and he didn’t explain what the Trump Administration anticipated. He simply said, that phasing out the private prisons, which house about one out of every six federal inmates — there are 190,000 federal inmates in the system — that phasing that out, would hurt the system’s ability to meet, in his words, “future needs,” and that’s the scary terminology.
Why does the Trump Administration anticipate that it’s going to need more room, to put more prisoners in prison, when actually the federal prison population has been shrinking? And right now it’s at the lowest population level in 10 years. And the Obama Administration had anticipated that the decline in federal incarceration would continue. So, that those one out of six inmates who had been contracted out, farmed out, to these private prisons, that that group could be reduced to zero.
So, the question is — what does Attorney General Sessions know, that the rest of us don’t know, in terms of what’s going to happen in the U.S. prisons? Now, we do know, it is clear that President Trump, his ambition is to outdo former President Barack Obama as the deporter-in-chief. But locking up immigrants is not the job of the Bureau of Prisons. That comes under Immigration and Customs, and other parts of Homeland Security.
And Immigration and Customs, even before the November elections, they were already expanding their detention facilities. This is before Trump was elected; they were expanding their facilities, and using private prisons to do so. But again, that’s outside of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. So, Sessions could not have been talking about the need to expand the Federal Bureau because of immigrants.
Lots of people anticipate, or speculate, rather, that this was simply something that the administration was doing in order to help the two corporations that dominate this whole private prison business. There are just two of them. One’s called the GEO Group. The other one is called CoreCivic; it used to be named the Corrections Corporation of America.
And when the Obama Administration made its announcement that it was phasing out the private contracting out of prison cells in the federal system, the stock on the stock exchange of those two companies went way down. But then, with the November election of Donald Trump, the stock went way up. And presumably with last week’s announcement, by the Attorney General, the price of these two corporations’ stock will continue to be high.
But that still doesn’t answer the question, because in order to justify these contracts, the federal prison system still has to fill beds with prisoners. And there is no sign of any crime wave on the horizon. What we have to also understand, is that crime is whatever cops say it is.
And if we look at the immigration scene again, immigration agents are getting, what they describe as unfettered discretion, from this Trump Administration to stop and detain people under whatever circumstances they see fit. And of course, that’s the one to lead to overtime, to huge numbers of people being detained, and lots of them in private detention.
And if federal cops, and other cops all over the country, can be given that same kind of unfettered discretion, then we’ll see a similar increase in arrests and detentions, in the criminal scene, as well. Even if there is no actual rise in crime, because again, crime is what the cops say it is.
EDDIE CONWAY: Yes, well let me see if I really understand this now. I heard you say that ICE and Homeland Security have their own set of prisons for the people, the immigrants that they’re rounding up. So, you’re saying these prisons, that Sessions is trying to bring back on-line, are for actual criminals, and not for the detention people?
GLEN FORD: That’s what appears to be. That’s what the Federal Bureau of Prisons oversees. And Homeland Security has a different situation. And as I said, Homeland Security was increasing their use of private prisons, even under President Barack Obama. His order did not extend to them.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay, so this actually concerns me now, because one of the things that research shows, is that these private prisons are the worst offenders of human rights, and the worst abusers of people held in their custody. And I thought that was part of the reason why the Department of Justice wanted to move away from them, because people were being killed. People were suffering from lack of medical attention.
So, if they’re that bad, and the overall federal prison population is shrinking, why… What’s happening here? I mean, that’s a concern. You’re saying they’re just going to start creating criminal elements, and just tossing people in jail?
GLEN FORD: I’m saying that Attorney General Sessions, and Donald Trump, come from a tradition of punitive imprisonment. That is, not just imprisoning people to take them away from society, certainly not imprisoning people to rehabilitate them, but imprisoning people to treat them as badly as possible. And with that kind of worldview, they’re not fazed at all, that private prisons have been documented to be the worst of the worst.
I have to say, however, that the Barack Obama Administration didn’t drop private prisons because they were so bad. Everybody has known that they were so bad for a very long time. They dropped them because of the public demands, among many other reform demands, that private prisons be outlawed.
EDDIE CONWAY: Hmm. Well, you know, this… and I hear you. This concerns me though; because a look back in history reminds me of something similar that happened in Nazi Germany, where they were illegally putting in prison, certain categories of people that they no longer deemed as valuable. Is this like another parallel to that kind of a history?
GLEN FORD: Well, since we have Attorney General Sessions, the Alabama former senator and lawmaker at the center of this story, it is logical that we talk about the history of imprisonment here in the United States. Imprisonment, the American incarceration system, was devised in order to continue slavery under another name.
Continued slavery under a regime of terror, and terror of black folks extended, of course, not just to night riding, and lynching folks, but to the institutional terror of prison. To make prisons as bad a place as possible, and a place that during some periods in U.S. history, you were lucky to emerge from alive, a place where you could not grow old, because the conditions were so unhealthy, and mitigated against continued life for you.
So, in the American penal history, especially its foundational southern history, the idea of making prisons dangerous to your health, is nothing strange at all.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay, so what does The Black Agenda Report think is the thing that the population needs to do, to kind of like, offset this new, apparently, attack on people’s civil liberties and human rights?
GLEN FORD: Well, that’s a very big question. What this editor of Black Agenda Report thinks the population ought to do, about the criminal justice system as a whole, is overthrow it, of course.
We’re not in the business here of recommending reforms. We’re in the business of talking about radical solutions to the oppression of folk, ways to throw off the yolk. So, I’m not going to come up with a laundry list of reforms.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. All right, well thank you for joining me. And thanks for giving us that update, and we’ll watch this, and see how it plays out.
GLEN FORD: Thank you for having me.
EDDIE CONWAY: And thank you for joining the Real News.