Puerto Rico to Move Inmates to U.S. Private Prisons

This week, El Nuevo Dia reported that 3,200 inmates will be moved from Puerto Rico to private prisons in the United States as part of Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares’ fiscal plan to address the country’s debt crisis. 

This move will most immediately impact prisoner’s ability to see their loved ones, which is crucial for their well-being while on the inside and their ability to rebuild their lives once they are released. It has already been difficult for families to visit incarcerated loved ones because Hurricane Maria destroyed roads and infrastructure, and now they will be deprived of visiting them without the financial burden of travelling to the mainland U.S.

In her book The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander criticizes mass incarceration as “a system of racialized social control” that targets black and brown people in the U.S. By sending Puerto Rican inmates to private U.S. prisons, corporations will continue the legacy of exploiting people of color for their economic benefit. They will be forced to work for absurdly low wages or for free, and will be given little support to reduce their sentencing and even less support in preparing for release.

Private prisons operate on a for-profit model, seeking to maximize profits by increasing the prison population, as opposed to seeking to reduce it. Private companies like the Corrections Corporation of America have a track record of lobbying for punitive sentencing policies in order to increase the number of people sent to prison, and therefore the money they are making off each inmate. By targeting people of color, these companies get away with increasing incarceration rates in a society embedded with racism and xenophobia. Corporate involvement in criminal justice policy decisions is nothing new. Now private prisons are preying on Puerto Rico as a vulnerable target for their profits, thus perpetuating the cyclical relationship between mass incarceration of people of color and capitalism.

Meanwhile private prisons are not even effective solutions for saving money. Typically they reduce spending by hiring fewer staff members, paying them less, and reducing essential training. These reductions cause high staff turnover and risk more violence within prisons. And in this case, companies will also incur costs in moving Puerto Rican inmates and staff to the U.S. mainland.

This is all part of a trend in Puerto Rico, where Governor Rosselló is enacting a series of austerity measures to manage its crippling debt. This results in devastating cuts to spending on essential human needs like healthcare, education, and infrastructure. Already 1,200 incarcerated Puerto Ricans have been moved to a federal prison in Mississippi due to the hurricane last fall. Plus, the new fiscal plan proposes privatization of Puerto Rico’s utilities, which will likely mean higher costs for poor Puerto Ricans, and nearly 30% of schools may close to save money, shutting down central community hubs for children and families.

But Puerto Ricans know that private companies are exploiting their island, and are fighting back for a just transition post-Hurricane Maria. Communities are coming together to give power back to the people, like Resilient Power Puerto Rico who dispersed solar power generators to communities without power, or Concalma, a woman-owned local business that helped create the Puerto Rico Relief Fund.

In direct contrast with the governor’s decision to export incarceration- Puerto Ricans are leading their own recovery, demanding an economy which cares for and serves the marginalized people who make it run.

Image Header: FairfieldSun.com

Amanda R. Matos, proud Nuyorican from the Bronx, NY, is the co-founder of the WomanHOOD Project, a Bronx-based youth-led organization for young women of color. She is dedicated to empowering communities of color through capacity building, political education, and civic engagement. Amanda has led community organizing and policy initiatives at Planned Parenthood of New York City and Girls for Gender Equity. She is currently pursuing a master's degree in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government as a Sheila C. Johnson Fellow. On her free time, Amanda eats doughnuts and watches great TV shows like Jane the Virgin and Blackish.

Amanda R. Matos is a community organizer and reproductive justice activist from the Bronx, NY.

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