Unfortunately, or fortunately, I don’t have much experience with prisons. That’s probably one of the reasons I watched Orange Is The New Black on Netflix, to get a peak behind the bars and glean a little understanding of incarceration. Hands down, my favorite episode is when bed bugs appear and the inmates are forced to spend their days wearing only regulation prison underwear. Who ever thought about the need for underwear as part of a prison uniform? It reveals so much on so many levels- really genius dramatization.
Part of this third season entails the privatization of the prison and the opening of a sweatshop where the inmates made fancy underwear. This made me interested in Columbia University’s recent decision to stop investing money in companies that run private prisons. Columbia owned roughly $10 million worth of shares in two companies that run private prisons.
A $5 billion private prison system accounts for nearly 20 percent of federal prisoners and about 7 percent of state prisoners. Minorities who are convicted of crimes are more likely to be sent to private prisons than their white counterparts where shareholders are guaranteed shareholders certain occupancy levels that often result in higher rates of incarceration.
Yesterday was another blow against the prison system with the death of Sandra Bland. Reported as a suicide, it seems more like a wrongful death because she should never have been arrested. She had recently moved from Chicago to Houston to start a new job and made the mistake of expressing irritation at being pulled over for not signaling a lane change and then balking when the officer asked her to put out her cigarette.
As Tisha B’Av approaches, we can add to our list of losses moral, ethical, and rehabilitative correctional facilities. Another shanda for America.