CoreCivic, by its very definition, exists not to rehabilitate but to profit off of human flesh. The mission of a for-profit prison corporation is to line the pockets of investors — those who have hedged their bets on our criminal justice system always producing enough bodies to fill the beds. These corporations make profits by offering a “desirable” alternative to public prisons, which, if you have taken introductory economics, translates invariably to “cheaper.” Costs are “managed” (to use a corporate buzzword) by the mistreatment not just of inmates — horrid sleeping conditions, exposure to unchecked rape and physical assault, inhumane sanitation and preventable health risks — but also of employees: low wages, no pensions and no sick leave.
These conditions are hardly a secret. After a Mother Jones investigative journalist went undercover to report on the Conradian horror firsthand, the corporate entity — then known as Corrections Corporation of America — underwent the same corporate plastic surgery as Blackwater to hide unsightly blemishes such as human rights violations beneath a veneer of marketing. And business is booming. The fiduciary survival of the for-profit system depends upon the public’s short-term memory and uncanny tolerance for cruelty that is just out of sight, not to mention the government’s willingness to cut costs in the imprisonment and disenfranchisement of an astonishing number of citizens.
We should not tolerate this sick industry. Just as Aimé Césaire saw “filth in the glitter of gems” mined by slaves and colonial laborers, we should all see that profits stemming from CoreCivic amount to blood money — no more, no less. Yale should move to divest immediately from for-profit prisons.
But neither immediate divestment nor all the perfumes of Arabia will make amends for the University’s willingness to reap such a rancid harvest from such an inhumane system. Just as Yale has established an in-house “carbon tax” as penance for their worship of coal-faced Mammon, Yale should take what money it has made from these disgusting institutions and invest it in a prison education system. Yale should take, as an example, Wesleyan’s programs at Cheshire Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison, and York Correctional Institution, the women’s state prison, and establish a program through which incarcerated students can earn degrees or credits toward a degree.
The importance of such a program cannot be underestimated. If we wish to combat the deeply-entrenched belief that a prison sentence is merely the first act of punishment — see Harvard’s rejection of Michelle Jones or the Connecticut Bar’s reluctance to admit Reginald Dwayne Betts LAW ’17 — Yale must acknowledge, in word and in deed, that prison can be a catalyst for rehabilitation rather than mere retribution.
Many Yale students already fight for this overhaul. Look no further than the coordinators and organizers of RebLaw at Yale Law School. They understand that criminal justice reform extends past the public defender’s office and the courtroom: Education is an essential facet of the fight for a fairer and more just system. To that end, many of my fellow graduate students are ready to teach in prisons and would leap at the opportunity to do so. The undergraduate Education Studies Program could be the perfect training ground for those who wish to teach behind bars.
Finally, Yale can help put for-profit prisons out of business by investing in the derailment of the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline” in New Haven. Rather than build a shrine to one man’s name — the needless and crass renovation of Commons comes to mind — Yale should invest in primary education across the city in the model of New Haven Promise. While New Haven Promise is a wonderful and generous start, it is just the first step. And it is one that, for far too many, comes far too late.
Yale’s endowment is substantial enough that they can afford to and must divest from financially profitable but ethically bankrupt investments. CoreCivic is rotten to the core. The decision is simple.
Alex Werrell is a graduate student in the English Department. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org