Liberal critics of the U.S. criminal justice system overwhelming cheered the Justice Department’s recent decision to cancel federal contracts with private prisons. Their enthusiasm for this misguided half-measure is disappointing, and betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the real problem.
The criminal justice system is not broken because there are too many people in private prisons. It is broken because there are too many people in prison, period. Merely shuffling prisoners from one form of captivity to another might be an exciting development for lefties whose driving force is hatred of corporations and profits, but the move won’t accomplish much else. It may even make life even more uncomfortable for the actual prisoners.
If left-leaning reformers understand this, many of them aren’t letting on. Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King hailed the Justice Department’s decision as a “huge deal.” Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL, called it “one of the most significant victories of the decade.” California’s Democratic Attorney General Kamala Harris said that she applauds the decision. “Mass incarceration should not be incentivized by private gain.”