Bernie Sanders Intends to Strike at Heart of Prison Industrial Complex

Last night, Bernie Sanders did a series of events in New Hampshire, the largest being in Portsmouth, where he spoke to 800 people at a local church. Much of the territory he covered was the traditional Sanders spiel: raise taxes on the wealthy who have long dodged their tax responsibilities, make education and healthcare free, combat rising political and economic inequality.

But during the question and answer session he diverged from his normal territory and took on a few new areas: education, the prison industrial complex, and immigration, staking out left-wing positions that are bolder than any major party nominee in recent memory.

First, someone asked him about the mass detention of immigrants and for-profit prisons:

QUESTION: We have a law enforcement quota, 34,000 immigrants are to be detained daily. Congress mandates that for a price tag of 2 billion dollars a year. About 60 percent of that is going to two corporations, Corrections Corporation of America and GEO. We are detaining people that present no threat, immediate threat to themselves or us. And then we see a certain Senator accepting campaign donations,

SANDERS: She's not talking about me so be clear (laughter and applause from audience)

QUESTION: – then he's voting against his own comprehensive immigration reform bill. I would like to know would you help us shut down the for-profit prisons, would you you shift money away from detaining people to other more humane methods, immigration judges for examples […] and would you work for comprehensive immigration reform?

SANDERS: The answer is, yes, yes ,yes. Clearly one of the crises we face in our nation is that we have more people behind bars than any other country on earth […] 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. And yes I'm certainly in favor of comprehensive education reform.

He was then asked about the use of high-stakes testing in schools.

QUESTION: Hi my name is Matthew, I'm an education student […] Our public schools spend so much time on rigorous testing, spending weeks and time and energy out of the school year […] What do you think the federal government's role is in terms of enforcing these tests and regulation.

SANDERS: I happen to be on the committee that deals with that stuff. And what I'm trying to do and  I think the committee will actually end up doing because you have Republicans also (inaudible) is end this absurd No Child Left Behind (inaudible due to applause). Your point is well taken I can tell you that in Vermont I have met with many teachers that are tired of teaching to the tests. They want a holistic approach to education including arts and I am doing my best to end what is a disastrous and failed experiment.

Watch the exchanges:


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