This year, my home state of Louisiana, United States of America, enacted common-sense prison reforms that will reduce the incarcerated population by 10 per cent and save the state more than a quarter of a billion dollars over the next 10 years. One local sheriff's response to the reforms encapsulates why they are so desperately needed: he complained that he would be losing a source of free labour. Referring to non-violent offenders, Sheriff Steve Prator of Caddo Parish said, "They're releasing some good ones that we use every day to wash cars, to change oil in our cars, to cook in the kitchen, to do all that, where we save money." (1) Video of his offensive statement went viral on social media, with many comparing the prison labour system to slavery.
Incarceration in the United States has become less about justice, and more about the profit motive. In addition to the billion-dollar prison labour industry, private prisons and for-profit companies continue to thrive, providing services and products to government prisons and creating a powerful financial incentive for more and longer prison sentences. Companies supplying goods and services such as commissary supplies and telephone service for correctional facilities bring in almost as much money as private prisons, according to the non-partisan Prison Policy Initiative. The profit motive taints nearly every aspect of prison life, ripping families apart for no reason justifiable by community safety standards. For example, costly "video visitation" has replaced free in-person family visits in some facilities. Private firms charge more than $1.30 per minute for screen time.
Among the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which came into force on 1 January 2016, are:
* End poverty in all its forms everywhere (SDG 1).
* Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all (SDG 8).
* Reduce inequality within and among countries (SDG 10).
* Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels (SDG 16).
The mass incarceration crisis in the United States impedes the achievement of these goals, as well as access to global citizenship. Incarceration limits earning power and the opportunity to lift oneself out of poverty for decades after one's release. Even...