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After Paula Park’s cover story “Two Dead in Ohio” (4/17), readers should know what Mayor Barry, the D.C. Council, and the federal government have planned for D.C.’s criminal justice system. At both March 17 and April 7 readings, the council rubber-stamped Congress’ Truth-In-Sentencing mandate, a draconian measure stripping D.C. of control over our courts.

The act nearly eliminates parole and judges’ discretion, regardless of prisoners’ good behavior, mitigating circumstances, or legal inequities like the crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity. It fulfills the 1997 Revitalization Act’s order that D.C. house 50 percent of inmates in private prisons by 2000.

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Before Ward 1 Councilmember Frank Smith voted yes at the March 17 reading, he remarked, “I hope nobody remembers I’m voting this way.” The American Civil Liberties Union invited the D.C. Council to undertake a legal challenge to Truth-In-Sentencing, but it chickened out.

Equally ominous was the Mayor’s Roundtable on Private Prisons, which Mayor Barry hosted on April 29. Witness after witness testified truthfully about the horrors of housing prisoners in distant places like Youngstown, Ohio. But there was little discussion of private prisons, even though that was the title of the event. Only Ward 8 activist Eugene Kinlow and a few others questioned the idea of contracting with prison corporations or challenged the notion that we need more cells, instead of considering alternatives like community-work sentencing for nonviolent offenses.

Perhaps Barry & Co. think that a deal with Corrections Corporation of America, Wackenhut, or National Corrections and Rehabilitation Corp. will earn us the grace of our congressional overlords. Private prison firms, like all corporations, exist not for the purpose of providing a service, but to make profits for investors. Private prisons draw that profit by filling cells with as many inmates as possible and by cutting the cost of housing those inmates.

That means we’ll have a class of people—investors, including those with mutual funds, bonds, etc.—who have a financial interest not in reducing crime, but in expanding the class of people who occupy those cells. With subsidiary contracts and interests (prison food and supplies, construction, guards’ services, etc.), the private prison lobby can only grow stronger—and press for further expansion of incarceration.

It’s clear that the zeal for private prisons fuels the Truth-In-Sentencing engine. Mayoral candidate Jack Evans, who along with Council Chair Linda Cropp went over the heads of the Judiciary Committee in raising the Truth-In-Sentencing bill in the D.C. Council, lists National Corrections and Rehabilitation Corp. among his major contributors (The Washington Post, 2/12). How much will these corporations pour into this year’s mayoral and council campaign coffers? Private prisons deals display enthusiasm among both Democrats and Republicans for privatization—handing over our services and resources (e.g., the Metrobus; education, through vouchers; public land) to the corporate elite that fills their coffers.

The Mayor can now pretend that the Roundtable’s virtual consensus against remote incarceration is also a consensus that private prisons will benefit D.C. Scary, no?

Adams Morgan

via the Internet