Dr. Woodson takes prison profiteering to task
What if I told you you’re worth $50,000+/year as a captive criminal? And that powerful forces seek to catch you at something – anything! – illegal so they can turn a profit on your life?
Welcome to being African American in Germantown!
It wasn’t always this bad, but it’s never been good. When I was 15 years old, I was on Germantown Avenue near Vernon Park. A police officer pulled up beside me, got out, and slammed me up against his car. “You like to see cops shot?!” he said, or something to that effect. I was a lightweight kid, maybe 129 lbs soaking wet. He slung me into the back of his car, no explanation, no probable cause.
He threw me into an empty cell with air-conditioning blasting cold. No one asked me any questions or offered me any explanation why I was there. Hours later, I was suddenly released without charges or cause. I walked home furious, confused and humiliated to have to explain where I’d been to my counselor at the Catholic boys home where I lived as a foster child. Even today, just remembering – it’s a unique and very specific wash of emotions. If you’ve ever felt it, you never forget.
That traumatic police encounter in Germantown changed me. I carry some resentment, but I’m lucky. I was an at-risk youth before the US created the world’s most profitable Mass Incarceration industry.
Back in my day, private prisons didn’t exist. There was no corporate entity making it their literal business to lock me up. But that changed in the 80’s and the Reagan Administration created the first for-profit prisons in the US.
And suddenly, POW! There’s incentive to turn citizens into prisoners. And wouldn’t you know, new “Tough on Crime” legislation soon followed – a dog whistle, warning white voters about dangerous criminals from the “urban” element. With mandatory minimums in the 90’s, incarceration rates shot up 500%! The US now has more prisoners than any other country in the world, even China and India!
African Americans are five times more likely to be incarcerated, and 75% more likely than whites to face charges with mandatory minimums. Black men receive almost 20% more jail time than white men for the same exact crimes. If you’re a typical Germantowner – low income and Black – you’re a target “client” for this growing industry.
Prisons are big business — $80 billion dollars a year of public funds. A prison also supports predatory enterprises that exploit people at their most desperate and vulnerable. The most despicable behavior doesn’t just cost people money but their very freedom.
Here’s how it works. Say some jackass cop wants to mess with you but instead of just slamming you around and holding you in a freezing jail cell for an afternoon, he makes up bogus charges. So now you need bail.
Hello, bondsman! He’ll spot you, but it’ll cost. To give you an idea, even a misdemeanor bail of $1,000 could run you $6,000 after fees and services – even if your charges are dismissed.
That’s if you have a home or some collateral to borrow against. If not, you have an awful choice to make:
- Sit indefinitely in jail waiting for your trial (where you could get screwed again) or
- Cut a deal even if you’re innocent, get it over with now
Fact is more than 90% of all cases are negotiated behind closed doors. Citizens are being arrested in record numbers every year – plea bargaining is coercion to funnel new “customers” into the corporate jail system.
Even if you avoid jail time, you get a criminal record. That’s like a “Get Back in Jail Free” card nobody wants. Plus a lifetime of consequences affecting education, employment, housing… Not to mention what it does to a person’s self-worth and faith in justice.
It’s a racist system with Jim Crow roots but listen up, white folks: your edge is shrinking. More and more low-income white people are getting caught up in the same machine. In a for-profit prison model, the poor are worth more as corporate income than as community members. Politicians win votes “fighting crime” and filling every available bed behind bars. Keeping that money rolling in for an industry that’s one of the biggest lobbying forces in US government.
Watch, now. The more white people get locked up, the more we talk about criminal justice reform. And the harder it gets to jail citizens, the more reasons we’ll find to arrest immigrants. All this nonsense now about “illegals” – just stop! Refuse to be manipulated by the system!
We’re all in this together, people. Jail is a trauma, even just a few hours behind bars can affect you forever. Let’s keep it a last resort for violent criminal behavior. Human lives should not be used to enforce political policies or promote a racist agenda! We can’t remain blind as vast numbers of sons, daughters and parents are railroaded by immoral, money-hungry schemers.