I’ve thought long and hard about how to specifically craft this letter. I’m sitting in a 4×6 cell in isolation, without resources. Just a pen and paper and my brain. Trying to process how COVID 19 has exposed the massive failure that is mass incarceration. Since I don’t have my actual possessions with me or anything else I can refer to, I’m going to write about this more or less off the top of my head. And I’ll try to be as accurate as possible.
I’ve written you before about the fallacy of “justice” that is mass incarceration. How long before COVID it was a disgusting practice and perversion of our morals, values and ideals as “Land of the Free, Home of the Brave, Americans”. It is a monetarily incentivized system (4 Billion per year) of modern day slavery that is run and funded by a “for profit” prison industry that is invested in people going to and staying in prison and touches every facet of an inmate’s life. For-profit Prisons run by Contractors (I was almost killed at one of these, see previous posting @ https://www.justiceforjohnbuckley.com/october-2019-update/) cut every corner concerning security to keep staff costs to a minimum while charging the state $65-$100 per day. For-profit medical care—companies like Wellpath, CCS, Corizon provide this service—is medical care incentivized by bonuses to their staff to actually NOT provide treatment to inmates who need it for monetary gain, charging the insurance company/government a premium. For-profit FOOD –Aramark, Kellwell and several others for profit food vendors are required to provide inmates 2600 calories per day in 3 “balanced” meals. Aramark’s per meal cost is less than a dollar. For that service they bill the state up to $4 per day per inmate for 3 meals. What kind of food do you think you get for that? For-Profit CANTEEN. We are allowed to purchase extra items from the prison canteen run by companies like Keefee, Trinity, and Walkenhorst. They buy “past the sell by date” gas station food (junk food i.e. chips, sodas, pastries) for pennies on the dollar and sell it to inmates for an inflated rate.
For Profit PHONES: Companies like Securus, Global Tel Link and Telecom provide this “service”. Phone rates vary per company and there are lots of hidden connection “fees” and taxes. When I call my Aunt in Nashville, it costs me $4.74 for a 15 min call but when I call my daughter in Lexington it costs me $6.78 (there are higher fees for intrastate calls) EMAILS: JPay (which is owned by Securus) provides an email service at $.60 an email plus a processing fee. Actually all of the inmates’ accounts have a processing fee—it costs $10 to put money on my canteen account, it costs $5 to put money on my phone and it costs $5 to put stamps on my JPay account. PRISON INDUSTRIES: Every prison has a prison industries contract to produce products using inmate slave labor. KY State Penitentiary produces linens and office furniture. Inmates are paid $.80 an hour. Some prisons have recycling plants, some have metal shops but they all have some type of industry. Every prison revolves around inmate slave labor—the kitchen, the yards, dorms, maintenance, everything is done this way. At KY State Penitentiary if you don’t have a job you don’t get any yard time and in some cases they will even send you to the Hole.
These companies have massive profit margins while exploiting a vulnerable population of downtrodden people. The prisons and the D.O.C’s (Dept. of Corrections) know that, which is why they negotiate such insane contracts for their ability to operate. The bids to win the contracts are highly competitive. Usually the winner offers the largest kickback. For example K.S.P. gets 40% of the phone revenue from Securus. I saw an article that said Securus cleared about $2 million to $6 million (the bookkeeping is very intentionally vague..) just off their KY DOC phone contracts. (see https://kycir.org/2021/07/14/the-pandemic-isolated-incarcerated-people-kentucky-and-securus-cashed-in/) The competition for these contracts even leaks into the political realm. Every election (local, state and federal) these companies hire lobbyists and give money to PACS to elect the candidates most like to be favorable to them. For instance, in 2016 Donald Trump received more money from the private prison industry than any other candidate in history because of his stated intention from the campaign trial to support the privatization of prisons.
Since Joe Biden touted the “Crime Bill” so passionately in the Senate, passing the (Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) makes it harder for prisoners to file lawsuits in federal court—and still affects me as an innocent man in prison today—the for-profit prison industry has only gotten bigger, uglier and more formidable. And it’s infected every level of the government until the entire Justice System has become one big ugly business. Prisons and jails are overflowing and WAY over capacity. Prisons are not seen as places of rehabilitation but places to warehouse the poor and mentally ill. Meanwhile profits are up! And stock investors’ dividends…
I was at Green River Correctional Complex when COVID 19 hit. By May 2020 we had hundreds of confirmed cases and several deaths. GRCC’s strategy was to basically lock us in our cells for 7 months, only letting us out in very small groups for 20 minutes at a time. As we settled in to our “new normal”, we realized that much of the staff had quit. COVID allowed KY DOC to more of less circumvent all of our Civil Rights but well after COVID was under control, we were still subject to prolonged lockdowns. What I realize is that they just didn’t have enough staff. As I got my Prison Legal Newsletter (PLN) each month, I would read that the same problem was plaguing nearly every prison in the country. With prisons packed to the brim to squeeze very dime that could be wrought out of each inmate, prisons were now scrambling to figure out how to release people that a few short months before had no alternative but incarceration. Guys that had been denied parole several times were just magically free to go. All of the sudden, the “non-violent drug offender” argument had merit. Meanwhile, inside the razor wire was not a safe situation—it still isn’t—KSP is operating on 20% of its recommended staff. COVID and understaffing have given the prison administration carte blanche—”extraordinary circumstantial immunity” to push the boundaries on our civil rights to the point of non-existence. I’ve written about KSP a lot but this place isn’t alone.
To balance out their horribly understaffed security problems, prisons have turned to brutal tactics of fear, intimidation, abuse and even torture to place a band aid on their chest wound that is their moral injury. Covid (and the police justice movement) have exposed that people don’t want to participate in this unjust system anymore. While there is chaos in these for-profit industries, the Corrections administrators can’t stop the bleeding out. The results are torture palaces like KSP which is a direct result of greed in prison Administrators and the for-profit prison industry, the manipulation of the “extraordinary circumstances” excuse due to COVID and under staffing and an inhumane misprioritization of money over inmate welfare.
Many of you have read my other writing; you know how bad it is here. But do your own research. Mass incarceration doesn’t work! The United States is the world’s leader in incarceration. There are 2 million people in the nation’s prisons and jails—a 500% increase over the last 40 years. Changes in sentencing law and policy, not changes in crime rates, explain most of this increase. We imprison more people than the next 20 largest developed countries COMBINED. The truth is we don’t do it for the health and safety of our citizens. We do it because it’s a money-making machine. Believe me, there are some people that need to be in prison, but it needs to look more like Europe’s system—more humane, actually rehabilitative, less time spent behind bars, more freedom to move around, study, learn, read, distress, heal.
COVID has just shown us that our system will not tread water; these places are not safe for the inmates or the staff. They don’t rehabilitate people or prepare them to return to society, quite the opposite. They are designed to bring inmates back so they can get more money—it’s a cash cow. These places don’t serve a public service beyond serving as a black hole, and in that case why not just stop pretending that we’re a civilized society.
Ranger Buckley from the frontlines Out—RLTW (Rangers Lead the Way)!