Private Prisons Get Bern-ed: Sanders Proposes Abolishing For-profit Facilities

The Independent Vermont senator plans to bolster his criminal justice reform record with new bill next month.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is taking his criminal justice reform platform from the campaign trail to the Senate with a plan to introduce legislation outlawing private prisons when Congress returns from August recess.

Daily Kos first noted that at his Reno, Nevada, rally on Tuesday night, the Independent senator told a gathered crowd of 4,500 supporters that “when Congress reconvenes in September, I will be introducing legislation, which takes corporations out of profiteering from running jails.”

Sanders, who is opposed to building any new prisons, has long advocated against draconian sentencing laws, voting in favor of investments in alternative sentencing and telling the Nevada crowd that he also plans to tackle mandatory minimums for certain crimes:

We want to deal with minimum sentencing. Too many lives have been destroyed for non-violent issues. People that are sent to jail have police records. We have got to change that. Our job is to keep people out of jail, not in jail

Sanders previously called on President Obama to take executive action to curtail certain tax breaks like a loophole that allows private prisons to avoid corporate income taxes by claiming that they make money from rent:

Criminal justice reform has become a prominent part of the 2016 Democratic presidential candidates’ platforms, with long shot hopeful Jim Webb, a former senator from Virginia, focusing on the problem during his campaign’s kick-off earlier this summer, current frontrunner Hillary Clinton devoting her first policy speech of the campaign to mass incarceration, and Sanders tackling the particular issue of for-profit prisons throughout his campaign. Back in May, Sanders explained the inefficacy and injustice of the practice:

China is a nation that is 3 or 4 times larger than us population wise, it is an authoritarian country Communist country, and we have far more people behind bars than does China. And what we do in our jails is we run a great educational system, we educate people how to be even better criminals. So it seems to me that rather than spending huge amounts of money on jails and on private corporations who are incentivized to keep people in jail, it might make a lot more sense to spend money on job training and education so that people do not end up in jail in the first place.

According to the ACLU, 16 percent of federal inmates and 6 percent of state prison inmates are housed in private facilities.

On the Republican side, Florida Senator Marco Rubio holds strong financial ties to the private prison industry with lucrative campaign donations from the nation’s second-largest for-profit prison company. Rubio’s ties to the industry have drawn scrutiny, including a petition calling on the presidential aspirant to “stop accepting campaign donation’s from the for-profit prison industry in exchange for favorable treatment.”

Watch Sanders announce his plan to introduce legislation abolishing for-profit prisons:

 

Sophia Tesfaye is the Deputy Politics Editor at Salon.

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