ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — On Aug. 5, the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders adopted a resolution supporting the elimination of private for-profit prisons in the state of New Jersey. The resolution noted the historic legacy of the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery in the United States. It also addresses the “Punishment Clause” of the amendment and how it has effectively relegated inmates, who are disproportionally people of color, to a virtual free source of labor — thereby extending the legacy and effects of slavery.
The United States, by a wide margin, has the largest prison population in the entire world. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the United States detains almost 2.3 million people in 1,833 state prisons, 110 federal prisons, 3,134 local jails, 218 immigration detention facilities, 80 Indian County jails and 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities. Due to prison overcrowding and state and local budget concerns, there has been an increase in the use of private prisons to administer the government’s role of incarceration.
The resolution does not advocate for the elimination of the prison system. However, it does affirm that the use of private prisons to simply house inmates, without providing concurrent treatment or reintegration services, runs contrary to the spirit and intent of the nation’s criminal justice system. In just a few decades since its inception, the private for-profit prison system has become a billion-dollar market through the use of prison labor to contribute to overall profits. Many of these prisons, however, do not provide the valuable reentry, drug rehabilitation and mental health services, which benefit both the inmates and the community at large, according to freeholders.
The resolution calls on Gov. Phil Murphy and the Legislative bodies of the state of New Jersey to stop delegating the state’s police powers and to abolish the use of the private prisons that simply house inmates for profit without providing the aforementioned vital services.
“We certainly appreciate the need to have secure facilities that house members of society who are dangerous and have run afoul of the law,” Freeholder Vice President Wayne Richardson said. “However, by adopting this resolution, the board states its opposition to the further construction, maintenance, and use of facilities that prioritize profit at the expense of rehabilitation.”
“We must remember that the inmates held in our prison system are deserving of treatment and rehabilitation while paying their debt to society,” Freeholder President Brendan Gill said. “This resolution expresses the board’s position that the private for-profit prisons across the state, who do not provide rehabilitative services, should be eliminated and I am pleased the board spoke with one voice in adopting this resolution.”