UPDATED: The Legacy of Dr. King, Mass Incarceration and the Montana Private Prison

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UPDATED: Governor Bullock has rejected the CoreCivic offer to extend their contract with the state of Montana.

Story by Mike Dennison at MTN News: Bullock admin rejects private-prison offer

50 years ago today Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated while in Memphis, Tennessee joining the sanitation workers strike there. The Poor People’s Campaign that Dr. King was leading has been whitewashed from history books and ignored by politicians who hope to capitalize on the legacy of Dr. King and have no intention of listening to the words of Dr. King that disagree with their political agendas.

Dr. King was anti-war. Dr. King fought against poverty. Dr. King was pro-union and pro-worker. We all know about the movement he built to secure civil rights victories in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, but we don’t hear about the Poor People’s Campaign, the last movement he was leading before he was murdered.

Dr. King introduces his Poor People’s Campaign:

Now we are going to get the right to have three square meals a day. Now we are going to get the right to have a decent house to live in. Now we are going to get the right to have some money in our pockets so that we can buy steak when we want to buy it … Now we are going to get the right to be able to educate our children. Now we are going to get the right for our wives and our mothers not to have to get up early in the morning, and run over to the white lady’s kitchen and clean and wash her clothes but to be able to stay at home and raise her own children. Now we are fighting for the right. Now we are fighting for the right to get proper medical care. Now we are fighting for the right to have enough money to have our physical-medical examination every year. Now we are fighting for the right to be able to see our dentist every year. Now we are fighting for the right to get the basic necessities of life. And in fighting for this right we aren’t going to stop in Montgomery this time. We aren’t going to stop in Atlanta this time. We aren’t going to stop in Columbia, South Carolina, this time. We’re going through all of them, but we aren’t going to stop. We aren’t going to stop in North Carolina, the city of Charlotte, this time. And we aren’t going to stop in Richmond, Virginia, this time. We aren’t going to stop until we get to the gates of the White House before Lyndon Baines Johnson, and the Congress of the United States of America. Now if we are going to carry on this campaign, this Poor People’s Campaign, this campaign to guarantee jobs and income, we’re going to need people, large numbers of people…

In the early months of 1968, King toured the South and beyond to drum up interest in, and raise funds for, the Poor People’s Campaign, which he had initiated and was supposed to lead later that spring. On March 20, he addressed a rally in the small, majority-black town of Eutaw, in western Alabama. He called for 1 million people to converge on the nation’s capital to lobby the government’s leaders to help the poor. via The Atlantic

Dr. King’s life was cut short in 1968 just as he was ramping up the Poor People’s Campaign. He did not live to lead the Poor People’s Campaign and he didn’t live to see the 3rd wave of slavery in America.

The first wave of slavery was the age of human bondage that ended in 1865 when the 13th Amendment was ratified. The second wave was the Jim Crow laws that disenfranchised and diminished the ability of black Americans to engage in the political process or live free and equal lives. The third wave is currently ongoing: mass incarceration.

According to the International Centre for Prison Studies:

More than 9.8 million people are held in penal institutions throughout the world, mostly as pre-trial detainees (remand prisoners) or as sentenced prisoners.

The U.S. has 2.4 million of those prisoners or 25% of the world’s prison population. (Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics)

What led to the increase in the prison population?

As you can see in the chart mass incarceration drastically increases for the first time under President Nixon, according to the Social Justice Journal:

In 1968, Richard Nixon’s campaign for the Presidency emphasized the rising crime rate throughout the country and demands for “law and order.” Between 1969, when Axon entered the White House, and the spring of 1973, the Federal Government’s law enforcement budget tripled; federal aid to state and local law enforcement grew from S60 million to almost $800 million. One of the principle conduits for these funds has been the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA). For the 1972 fiscal year, LEAA received eleven times the funds it had in fiscal 1969.

President Reagan ramped up Nixon’s efforts at mass incarceration through his creation of the ‘War on Drugs’. In 1986 Reagan used the death of a prominent basketball player due to a drug overdose to decry the crack epidemic:

October 27, 1986: Reagan signs into law the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. Frontline writes that the law allocated funds to new prisons, drug education, and treatment. But its main result was to create mandatory minimum sentences. The harsh sentences on crack cocaine use disproportionately affect African-Americans.

Personally, I find the last chapter in these sets of the law the most disgusting and it is hard to stomach for someone like myself who tries to support good folks, with good intentions for office. President Clinton was only the second Democrat to hold the white house in 24 years when he entered in 1992. He had risen to prominence by using the language of a 3rd way moderate candidate. He was prominent in the DLC which hoped to transform the Democratic Party. He did transform the Democratic Party or more correctly, he used the Democratic Party to further his neoliberal agenda of free trade laws like NAFTA and repealing Glass-Steagall. As well as passing some of the most draconian sentencing laws and ramping up funding for the prison industrial complex.

September 13, 1994: President Clinton passes the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which the administration presents as both tough and smart on crime, according to a White House release. It increases drug treatment programs and gun safety laws, but also allocates more money for prisons and issues harsher sentences, including a three-strikes law. via The Atlantic

(Source: Prison Policy Initiative)

In Montana, we are currently facing a budget crunch created by the false revenue projections of Republican legislators at the 2017 legislative session that has drained our coffers and forced closures of mental health providers all over the state. In response at the 2017 special session, CoreCivic, the private prison corporation operating a prison for the State of Montana in Shelby offered to give back $30 million state dollars that had been set aside by the state to buy the prison, if Governor Bullock extends their contract with the state another 10 years.

The money would come from a fund set aside to help the state buy the privately owned and operated Crossroads Correctional Center near Shelby, after 2019. via MTN News

The bill to accept the $30 million dollars and extend the state contract with the private prison passed the special session, yet it needs action from Governor Bullock. He can choose to leave the $30 million alone and use it to buy the prison back after 2019 or he can extend the state contract with the private prison.

A lobbyist tried to broker this deal during the session as we broke here at The Montana Post:

This lobbyist is trying to land a one-two punch for private prisons and big tobacco

Today the ACLU of Montana posted this to Facebook calling on Governor Bullock to decline the offer from CoreCivic, a private prison, to extend their contract with Montana:

CoreCivic wants to strike a deal to keep its hold over Crossroads Correctional Facility in Shelby for another 10+ years.

The ACLU of Montana will fight to keep this Tennessee-based for-profit prison from profiting off Montanans. We expect all elected officials to do the same.

Please call Governor Bullock today and tell him that CoreCivic is not a partner for Montana. 406-444-3111

The ACLU has also released a statement:

The ACLU of Montana vehemently denounces CoreCivic’s $30 million inducement to the Bullock administration in exchange for renewing the contract of Montana’s only private prison for the next ten years. CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America and best known for violating the rights and dignity of prisoners across the country, is blatantly seeking to take advantage of a state government in a budget crisis.

“The state and Montanans are reeling from the pending impacts of unprecedented budget cuts; now is not the time to re-invest in CoreCivic and cut a deal with the for-profit prison industry for short-term gain,” said Caitlin Borgmann, ACLU of Montana Executive Director. “It is the Bullock administration’s and state lawmakers’ responsibility to raise revenue and focus on the actual needs of Montanans, such as healthcare, public education, and reforming our corrections system.”

“Shelby prison should be turned over to state control or shut down completely. This offer from CoreCivic illustrates perfectly that the private prison industry only serves to warehouse human beings and look after its own profit margins. We hope the governor and lawmakers reject this offer and get down to the business of raising revenue to fund essential programs and services.”

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