WASHINGTON, DC — In a new report released today, November 20th, Grassroots Leadership, a 33-year old Southern-based national social justice organization that works to end for-profit incarceration, documents the widespread practice of transferring prisoners from California, Vermont, Hawaii and Idaho across state lines to for-profit private prison facilities.
Locked Up and Shipped Away: Interstate Prisoner Transfers and the Private Prison Industry, written by Holly Kirby, found that more than 10,500 state prisoners are incarcerated in private, for-profit prisons outside of their home states, at facilities approximately 450 to 3000 miles away, with states collectively spending hundreds of millions of dollars this year in out of state incarcerations.
Earlier today, Grassroots Leadership was joined on a telephone news press conference announcing the report by experts and civil rights leaders in the fight against for-profit incarceration as well as by the families of prisoners currently held out of state, to brief reporters on the issue, and present the findings of their report.
“Interstate transfer of prisoners is a detrimental criminal justice policy that hurts families and impedes prisoner rehabilitation, while serving the interests of an industry that views prisoners as commodities and perpetuates our nation’s mass incarceration crisis,” explained Holly Kirby, author of the report and organizer at Grassroots Leadership, ahead of the press conference. “With little public scrutiny, state officials have pointed to overcrowding as a justification for sending incarcerated people to out of state private prisons, rather than prioritizing suitable alternatives to address prison overcrowding.”
Prisoners from the state of Hawai’i, which has been transferring prisoners to the mainland since 1995, have had a troubling history with shipping away prisoners. According to Kat Brady of the Community Alliance on Prisons in Hawai’i, “Our people and their families have been moved around like chess pieces -- sold to the lowest bidder, in essence. I hear the anguish of families, of children who miss their daddies, of wives struggling to keep their families together and the desperation of people trying to locate their loved ones.”
"Idaho's experience with transferring incarcerated people to private prisons both in Idaho and out of state should serve as a cautionary tale," said Monica Hopkins, Executive Director of the ACLU of Idaho. "The solution to Idaho's prison crisis is to reduce our prison population, not to ship people away to be incarcerated for profit in another state."
“Transferring prisoners out of the state of California has been an ineffective band-aid for our state’s overcrowded prison crisis. In a moment when we have an opportunity to demand sustainable prison population reduction strategies that would actually shrink the prisoner population, our ability to house prisoners in other states creates an “out” and a distraction from the root of the problem and moves us away from real reform,” according to Diana Zuniga of Californians United for a Responsible Budget.
As she tells the story of her incarcerated son who was involuntarily transferred from California to Arizona, Danielle Rigney shared, “When he is released into society we are the ones who will be his support, we are the ones who will encourage him to finish college, get a job and never go back to prison. But we are losing touch, we are losing the battle.”
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