This morning, DFL protesters temporarily shut down a hearing on whether the state of Minnesota should re-open a privately owned prison. It isn’t surprising that Rep. Tony Cornish, the chair of the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee, recessed the meeting to clear the room.
The interruption happened when “several groups lined up to oppose the plan, including AFSCME, the union that represents correctional officers, the religious coalition ISAIAH and the community group #BlackLivesMatter.” This is the heart of the DFL coalition, with AFSCME representing the public employee unions, ISAIAH representing the social justice wing of the DFL and #BlackLivesMatter representing the racial disparity wing of the DFL.
The protesters made a series of accusations while asking some questions. For instance, Rev. Brian Herron of Zion Baptist Church asked “Why are we having discussions about building an economy off of black and brown bodies?” Nekima Levy Pounds, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, took a different approach:
I have not heard any discussion about the high unemployment in the inner city communities that are actually fueling the incarceration rate. Doing business with CCA is like doing business with the devil, because their practices are diabolical.
Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy took another different approach:
The role of government is significant in the criminal justice arena. It is a responsibility that I think falls clearly on the role of government. The notion that we incarcerate people for profit, for corporate profit, is, I think, the anti-thesis of America. We would not for a moment think about privatizing police. We would not for a moment think about privatizing courts. Why would we consider privatizing corrections?
That’s intellectually dishonest. The legislation (HF3223) isn’t about privatizing corrections. Commissioner Roy knows that. HF3223 says that the “commissioner, in order to address bed capacity shortfalls, shall enter into a contract to lease and operate an existing prison facility with a capacity of at least 1,500 beds located in Appleton, Minnesota.”
All of the doom and gloom predictions, especially the insinuation that incarceration rates wouldn’t increase if not for the privatization of prisons, is intellectually dishonest. Today’s protest was a political stunt aimed at increasing DFL turnout next fall.
While the protesters brought up some legitimate questions, a number of the statements didn’t have a basis in fact. Simply put, if the facility in Appleton is re-opened, Commissioner Roy will be in charge of the personnel that get hired, which means that AFSCME members would be hired to guard the prisoners. The only private thing about this is that a private company built the empty prison.
Finally, nobody would be “building an economy off of black and brown bodies.”