Private Prisons: "Horrific"

Last week, I spoke with LaNita Mitchell, a Families for Books Not Bars member who hasn't seen her son in 3 years because he's in a private prison in Oklahoma.

When LaNita's son went to prison 12 years ago, he survived his first few years fairly well. Other people in prison would talk of how his laughter was infectious and everyone would know when he was laughing.

But after the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) moved him to a Corrections Corporation of America (aka private) prison in Oklahoma, things started to get worse. He started to lose hope and slip into depression, and become increasingly angry.

Things got so bad that with help from her family, LaNita bought a ticket to fly to see him. But the day before she left, a riot broke out at the prison. The prison was put on lockdown and she was forced to postpone her trip. Luckily, her son wasn't hurt, but the entire prison remained on lockdown for a year after that. She still hopes to use her ticket one day to go and see him, but the visiting periods are still restricted at the prison.

Besides being separated from your family, being sent to an out of state private prison presents other problems. LaNita's son tells her that the only way to file a grievance is do it through California, which is much harder if you're thousands of miles away. And getting representation in Oklahoma as a California prisoner is much more difficult.

That private prisons are worse than our state prisons says a lot given the notorious overcrowding and lack of care in California’s prisons.

In all, how has it been to have a son in a private prison thousands of miles away? LaNita says simply: "It has been horrific."

And her story is not unique. California sends 10000 prisoners in private out of state prisons. And we've just found out that California and other states are more likely to send people of color to private prisons than other prisoners. For example, 89% of the prisoners California sends out of state are people of color, compared to "only" 75% people of color in public prisons. Similarly, Texas and Arizona disproportionately sends people of color to private prisons.

California and other states should immediately end their relationships with private prison corporations like CCA. They don't save taxpayers money and limiting connections to family and community has been shown to make it harder to reintegrate when prisoners are released. It is morally wrong to turn people over to institutions whose primary purpose is maximize profit for their shareholders, not the rehabilitation of people.

If you're in California, call Governor Brown's office at (916) 445-2841 and demand that he cease sending people out of state. If you live elsewhere, contact your representative and ask that they introduce legislation to end or prohibit sending people to private prisons.

Thanks to Christopher Petrella and Josh Begley for creating the graphic and sharing their research with us.