I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal”. This statement in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I have a Dream speech is well known. Dr. King, himself, is a very well known man, but in the month of February every year, those who have let him slip their minds have no choice but to remember him. The month of February is recognized by the United States as Black History month. It is a month dedicated to the remembrance of important African Americans who have made a difference, as well as events in history of the African Diaspora.
Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) celebrated Black History Month with blog posts remembering Rosa Parks and posted Facebook trivia contests about the contributions of African American musicians. Evidently, CCA must have forgotten that they are the largest private corrections company in the United States and manage more than 60 facilities with a designed capacity of 90,000 beds. It must have also forgotten that 38 percent of their revenue stream consists of black men and women, as an analysis from The Sentencing Project.
How ironic is it that this company, celebrating black history month, is making $1.7 billion annually off of the incarceration of people of color?
The concept of privately owned companies making profit from incarcerating human beings is absurd to begin with. It incarcerates more African Americans than any other private prison company. It spends millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions to ensure their facilities stay full. The GEO group, another huge privately owned corrections company, makes billions of dollars also off of mass incarceration. GEO manages 59 facilities totaling approximately 53,400 beds worldwide.
Overall according to NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet, African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated populations nationwide- federal, state, and private. African Americans represent 26% of juvenile arrests, 44% of youth who are detained, 46% of the youth who are judicially waived to criminal court, and 58% of the youth admitted to state prisons. Also one in six black men has been incarcerated as of 2001. If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime. In some states, like Illinois, African Americans are eight timesmore likely to be incarcerated for a petty drug offense than white people, even though African Americans and white people consume and distribute drugs at similar rates, according to the Illinois Disproportionate Justice Impact Study Commission.
So why exactly did CCA decide it was appropriate to acknowledge this special month for African Americans when theyare living off incarcerated people – the majority of which are African American? Maybe it was meant to be a sincere gesture but it is seen more as a mockery. It was not a general “Happy Black History Month.” The President and CEO of CCA, Damon Hininger, wrote on his blog post“We can honor Dr. King’s legacy by embracing his dream of equality for all people-regardless of race, creed, or color. We can also make a decision to be of service-to take actions that improve our communities and ultimately, our society.” First, there is no promotion for equality for all people in prisons. Today people of color continue to be disproportionately incarcerated, policed, and sentenced to death at significantly higher rates than their white counterparts.