Justice in America Episode 26: The Privatization of Prisons
Josie Duffy Rice and guest co-host Donovan Ramsey talk with Bianca Tylek, executive director of Worth Rises, about the privatization of America’s criminal legal system.
Apr 01, 2020
On this episode of Justice in America, Josie Duffy Rice and guest co-host Donovan Ramsey look at the privatization of America’s criminal legal system. They go beyond just private prisons and look at all the ways the system has privatized corrections, including privatized probation, supervision, healthcare, and communications, and more. To discuss the issue, Bianca Tylek, executive director of Worth Rises, joins the show.
Bianca Tylek’s Book Recommendation, Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money from Mass Incarceration, edited by Tara Herivel and Paul Wright
For more on Worth Rises, check out their website.
Report from Human Rights Watch: “Set up to Fail”: The Impact of Offender-Funded Private Probation on the Poor.
For Private Prisons, Detaining Immigrants Is Big Business, from the New York Times.
This New Yorker article, titled The Jail Healthcare Crisis.
The Private Option, from The Atlantic.
Justice in America is available on Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud, Sticher, GooglePlay Music, Spotify, and LibSyn RSS. You can also check us out on Facebook and Twitter.
Bianca Tylek’s Twitter handle: @biancatylek
Worth Rises’s Twitter handle: @worthrises
Our email is email@example.com.
Bianca Tylek: There are jails that are run by government agencies where almost every single service in that jail has been outsourced or privatized. Telephone services, video calling services, tablets, money transfers, laundry services, community corrections will think about electronic monitoring, right? People pay for the electronic monitors on their ankles. Food, commissary, literally every step of the way you walk in a jail or prison and you will see private actors. The government is not separate from that, they’re a collaborator and conspirator with these private companies and also profit not just the corporations themselves.
Josie Duffy Rice: Hi I’m Josie Duffy Rice.
Donovan Ramsey: And I’m Donovan Ramsay.
Josie: And this is Justice in America. Each show we discuss a topic in the American criminal justice system and we try to explain what it is and how it works. Thank you so much everyone for joining us today.
Donovan: You can find us on Twitter @Justice_Podcast, we’re also on Facebook at Justice in America and subscribe and rate us on Apple Podcasts. We’d love to hear from you.
Josie: We opened the show with a clip from our guest, Bianca Tylek. Bianca is the Founder and Executive Director of Worth Rises. Worth Rises is a nonprofit advocacy organization that’s dedicated to dismantling the prison industrial complex and they deal a lot with privatization.
Donovan: Yes, so today’s subject is privatization. In other words, it’s the ways in which corporations are making money off of people who are criminal system involved. But first, we’re going to talk about the word of the day, I guess it’s more of a phrase, it’s “broken windows” policing. The broken windows theory is a criminological theory that states that visible signs of crime, anti-social behavior and civil disorder creates an urban environment that encourages further crime and disorder, including serious crime, things like murder, assault, rape.
Josie: Mm hmm. So basically the theory is that if you get rid of low level crime, you’ll, by the transitive property, reduce serious crime, right?
Donovan: Public urination. Jaywalking.
Josie: Leads straight to murder.
Josie: Right. The thing about broken windows is when you hear stuff like visible signs of crime, civil disorder, antisocial behavior, urban environment, right? These are words that we use to talk about class and race a lot of the time, right? The things that broken windows policing is addressing are the sort of things that I think, in Ferguson, one of them was, ‘oh, if you have your trash can out on the wrong day’ or something, you know, small, small stuff that police are focusing on.
Donovan: Yeah. So, you know, I’m researching and writing a book right now, it’s a history of the crack epidemic, and this was a big thing in the eighties and nineties especially in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and it was sort of the underpinning for policies like stop-and-frisk, that said that if you see a person who is selling loose cigarettes that you then have this pretext for looking for guns looking for drugs and thing about me that I always think about when it comes to policing is you want police officers who are able to not just profile people, or cast a huge dragnet across communities, but actually know what crime looks like.
Donovan: Not cast a dragnet across entire communities. So that way, no one can do anything including crime.
Josie: Right. Well, that’s, I think, also part of the problem, right, is that police think that they can identify crime before it happens. I mean, I think there are two problems. One is, if you are too focused on looking and seeing who has marijuana or who’s jaywalking or who’s in a suspicious looking group of people, you’re not finding the people who are committing rapes and murders, I mean, that’s time you’re not spending trying to solve serious crimes. But I think the other problem is, if you give police or really any group of people, especially those who have shown to have a historical pretense towards racism, the ability to decide who needs to be prevented from committing crimes: here we are.
Donovan: And I think possibly the grossest thing about it is that it also gives folks a way of then excusing locking people up for minor offenses, because the thinking is, well, this person who was jaywalking was going to become a murderer anyway.
Donovan: You know what I mean?
Donovan: That is the sort of insult on top of the injury.
Josie: Totally and it just, again, really on law enforcement to do what social services should be doing, if you are finding in a community that there’s a lot of, quote, “civil disorder” and “visible signs of crime,” whatever that means, then maybe the answer is to provide more programs or social services in the community. Make sure people have the public housing that’s quality that they need or have access to good food or jobs, like you’re not going to solve, it’s back end solutions to front end problems.
Donovan: It’s like, what if the broken windows theory was just like, let’s fix the broken window.
Josie: (Laughs) Right.
Donovan: (Laughs) Like in a perfect world like that would have been-
Josie: Right, right, right. Instead let’s arrest the guy that broke the window or has a broken window or whatever. You know, look, people still talk about it all the time like it’s a solution.
Donovan: Mm hmm.
Josie: I mean, you see it constantly and once again, it’s just another way of relying on law enforcement, people with guns and the state, actors with a gun to solve what are pretty minor problems at the end of the day. And really community problems, community problems for a community to solve, not for the cops to come in and take control of. Unsurprisingly, broken windows policing was a big sort of driver of mass incarceration.
Josie: And in so many cities across the country, and we’ve talked about this on the show before, but the murder solve rate is like hovering around 50 percent. The rape solve rate is hovering around — at best — I think about 30 percent.
Josie: And what that means is that y’all are focusing too much on broken windows then.
Donovan: Yeah, this is where the money, this is where the attention and resources and time right goes and I think that when most people, maybe in this country have an idea of like, what the police do, it’s based on, you know, Law and Order.
Donovan: Or these shows where people are like solving huge, major, heinous crimes, but that the reality if you actually sort of like go out and like shadow some police officers, it’s doing this type of police work and sort of just driving through neighborhoods, looking for visible signs of crime or social disorder or sort of whatever the term is and then seeing then if that can be a pretext for a stop, a search, you know, or something that might typically uncover weed. I mean, if you want to be honest about it. You know.
Josie: Right, right, right, at best. I feel like it’s expanded so much. So you think about broken windows policing, then you think about something like the swipe in New York, with the swiping.
Donovan: Oh, yeah.
Josie: You know, they’re driving all these resources into getting people who, who jumped the turnstile in the subway, that’s like a couple bucks, right? That’s a ton of money that they’re spending on that and it’s not technically community policing, but it’s a spin off of that. It’s like allowing cops to be spending all their day catching people for jumping the subway turnstile, which just can’t possibly be an effective use of our tax dollars.
Donovan: You know? So that’s why it’s our word of the day, broken windows policing.
Josie: Great. So we’ve talked about privatization before as it relates to other topics like criminalization of poverty or bail and we’re going to talk not just about private prisons, but all the ways that the system has privatized corrections.
Donovan: Lots of people think of privatization as a new thing, and it’s true that this modern era — which started about 35 years ago — marked a major increase, but privatization actually has a fairly long history in America. As far back as the American Revolution, the colonies held prisoners on private ships because they couldn’t send them back to the UK. Years later, during Reconstruction, we saw the barbaric practice of convict leasing, where plantations and businesses which no longer had slaves to work for free, would contract with prisons to get very, very cheap labor. So we’ve been privatizing corrections for a really long time.
Josie: But this new era of privatization really began in the early 1980s — way back in 1983 — when these two men started a company called the Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA, which is actually now called Core Civic. So CCA was a private corrections company that really got its start in private prisons and Tom Beasley was one of the founders and the former CEO of CCA, had been the chairman of the Republican Party in Tennessee for a few years right before this company was started. In 1984, in an article in Inc magazine, he was interviewed about the privatization of prisons and he said that the way to sell prisons was quote, “just sell it like you were selling cars or real estate or hamburgers…I love it,” Beasley said. “I just love it. We’re the best thing that ever happened to corrections since they stopped beating ’em.” He’s talking about prisoners, by the way, inmates.
Donovan: In 1987, under President Reagan, the President’s Commission on Privatization held a public hearing and Tom Beasley was the first to speak. Here he is giving his introductory statement.
Tom Beasley: I don’t think it stretches the point too much to use this committee room as an illustration of why the public sector needs the private sector involvement to solve what’s going on in corrections today. I was in here 20 minutes ago and the room was full, it’s almost empty now because nobody really cares very much about correction. As a matter of a political constituency, nobody ever got elected on a corrections platform. The public wants them locked up, they want the key thrown away but they don’t want to be charged with it and they don’t want any facilities built close to them. I have discovered in four years in this business, that what’s reflected in this meeting room today by the audience that’s here is reflected legislatively across this country, in every level relating to correction. That’s why it’s been in trouble for 40 years. That’s why it’s going to continue in trouble if it doesn’t utilize the resources that private sectors offer.
Donovan: And literally the next year, George H.W. Bush runs for president against Dukakis and runs the very famous Willie Horton ad, calling Dukakis soft on crime. This is kind of a funny moment for many reasons, especially the fact that he says that no one really got elected on a tough on crime platform, because that’s exactly how people were getting elected in 1987.
Josie: Right. Right, right.
Donovan: How people were getting elected, you know, like an entire election cycle before that, so just the sort of like amount of cognitive dissonance there is wild.
Josie: I’m thinking about just your book, I mean, Reagan’s war on drugs was in full swing.
Donovan: Yeah, the idea is that basically that the government’s coffers were completely open when it came to the war on drugs, whether that was investing in policing, whether it was just pumping money into building prisons and really, the more honest story is that the private sector just wanted a piece of the pie.
Josie: Totally, totally, totally. So CoreCivic, now CCA, is primarily a private prison company and of course, everybody has heard of private prisons where a private corporation literally owns the facility. So private prisons get a lot of attention in the reform conversation and that’s both good and bad.
Donovan: Good because it’s important to recognize just how morally depraved it is that people are benefiting off incarceration and it shows just how screwed up the incentives are but it’s also misleading because only 8 percent of people who are serving time in prison are in private prisons. So we could get rid of private prisons altogether and still have a major mass incarceration problem.
Josie: Right. It is worth noting that a lot of people in immigration detentions are in private facilities, which is a slightly different legal construction, but for the most part, most people are in public prisons. But the thing to remember is that private prisons aren’t the only way that corporations profit off of system involved people, including people in prison. So even in facilities that aren’t privately owned, many of the providers and the services come from private companies. It also goes beyond prisons at every step of the process from people facing fines to people on probation or parole. Private companies are just making a ton of money off of people who are involved in the criminal justice system.
Donovan: As one corporation, Correctional Healthcare Companies stated, they attend to the, quote, “full spectrum of offenders lives, pre-custody, in custody, and post-custody.” To highlight just how many ways corporations profit in this system, we will give you an example. Let’s say you’re charged with a misdemeanor and you’re sent to jail. Even if your jail is not a private facility, they have private contracts for their many services. If you’re in jail and get sick, a private company could very well be in charge of your healthcare. You may think that doesn’t sound bad, after all, outside of prison, private healthcare is seen as the better option. But in prison, that’s not exactly the case. Often these companies are paid a certain rate per individual so in order to profit they have to keep the cost below that amount and a major criticism of privatized health care in prison is that it often doesn’t take dire medical concerns seriously.
Josie: Yeah, you hear about this all the time. You hear about people in prisons or jails who are just obviously, extremely, extremely sick, in a very, very life threatening situation and are just unable to get access to any healthcare. The New Yorker did a story in 2019 that featured this man named Jeremy Laintz, and he was being held by a jail that had contracted with a company called Correctional Health Partners to provide health care. And when he began feeling seriously ill he went to the health unit, only to be told, quote, “everything is pretty much normal,” and he should try quote, “relaxation and breath control.” In the end, it turns out Jeremy was diagnosed with — among other things — sepsis, pneumonia, and respiratory failure. He lost part of his lung and he had to have six toes removed due to gangrene. These companies’ contracts often include clauses that they will increase profit if they transfer less people to the hospital. So you can imagine why they told Jeremy — a deathly ill man — that he should try “relaxation and breath control.”
Donovan: And it’s not just healthcare. The food in prisons also comes from private corporations. And since prisoners don’t have a choice in terms of what they eat, a private provider’s only incentive is to keep costs as low as possible. Aramark, the most notorious prison and jail food provider, has been accused on several occasions of serving maggot infested food. One lawsuit in Mississippi a few years ago noted that incarcerated people lost between 10 and 60 pounds when they got to prison, because the portion sizes were so small.
Josie: Private companies also often run the commissary and we’re going to talk to our guest, Bianca Tylek, about this later, but that can also mean far higher costs for prisoners who want a bag of chips or some ramen and even when the costs aren’t significantly higher, any increase in price matters when prisoners are just making a few cents an hour at their jobs in prison, right? In many facilities communications are also privatized and again, not just facilities that are privately owned. So in public facilities across the country communications are also owned by private companies. And this means that family and friends of those in the system have to pay dramatically high fees to have even a short phone call. So in Arkansas jails, for example, a fifteen minute phone call can cost as much as $25.
Donovan: Many facilities offer video conferencing now. That may be beneficial for people who live far from their loved ones in prison or who can’t manage to travel to the facility but instead of it being a supplement to in person visitation, video conferencing has become a replacement. The Prison Policy Initiative found that 74 percent of jails that adopt video visitation have also banned in person visits. You probably won’t be surprised to find out that these costs can cost up to $1.50 a minute. These are just some of the ways private companies exploit the incarcerated and their families, even those who aren’t technically being held at private facilities.
Josie: Still it’s worth noting that some things about private prisons versus public prisons that have been highly privatized, are kind of uniquely bad and we do want to note, it’s not that everybody in private prison is having a worse experience than everybody in public prison. There are public prisons that are terrible and worse than private prisons, there are private prisons that are terrible and worse than public prisons. There’s not sort of like one thorough trend necessarily. But most notably, private facilities are often more dangerous. So about 50 percent more violent incidents, including the assault of prison guards are reported in private prisons and violence between prisoners is also much higher anywhere from 30 to 70 percent higher in private facilities. And often that’s because of staffing.
Donovan: Staffing is a problem across all prisons and jails, not just private. But private companies are particularly motivated to skimp on staffing because that’s where the cost comes from, and more staff would eat into the profit. This also means the private sector is less likely to train staff too. One report showed that public facilities required on average almost 60 more pre-service trainings than private facilities. Unsurprisingly, the turnover rate is about three times as high in private facilities too.
Josie: Right. People are just quitting their job because they’re not getting paid much and they’re not being trained and, you know, they’re being assaulted because private prisons don’t want to invest in safety in a lot of ways. And like we said, it’s not just what happens in prisons and jails, probation is an area where private companies have a ton of influence and nobody really talks about private probation but it’s a huge industry. Ever since Florida became the first state to legalize private probation back in 1975, companies have been making a killing off of people on probation.
Donovan: So another hypothetical.
Donovan: Say you’re charged with a misdemeanor, and you don’t actually get arrested or have to go to jail instead, you’re just put on probation. As part of it, you’re going to have to wear an ankle monitor and get drug tested once a week. In many places, the person who’s in charge of monitoring you is not the court or law enforcement or a probation officer, but a corporation.
Josie: Right. An actual corporate entity is in charge of your probation. That means a company like Judicial Correction Services, which was one of the fastest growing companies in America four years in a row, is in charge of your probation and you’ll probably owe them a monthly fee, just at baseline, and that ankle monitor could cost you a few hundred dollars a month too, which means you’re literally paying a company to constantly surveil you, which is dystopian enough on its own.
Donovan: And the drug tests will cost you. In some places, it will literally cost you thousands of dollars to get your saliva and urine tested, and $150 or so just to get a hair test, and you have to pay for it. There aren’t exceptions and if you don’t pay, you go to jail.
Josie: The thing about this is that the original offense that got someone put on probation to begin with, is often not even punishable with jail time, right? It’s often really low level stuff, public drunkenness, speeding, shoplifting a few dollars worth of stuff, because there’s now a profit motive, now suddenly, not being able to pay all these fees can end you in jail.
Donovan: And it’s important to note, part of the reason counties and states sign these contracts for some of these services is because it costs them very little — if anything — at first. That’s because this entire industry is predicated on the idea of offender funded justice. In other words, especially for things like phone call cost or video conferencing or private probation, the corporations aren’t relying on the county to pay them an arm and a leg in order to profit, they’re relying on the guy who is on probation and his family and friends. They’re the ones who will pay the fees. They’re the ones who drive the profits.
Josie: Even if you just have traffic tickets you can’t pay you can end up dealing with private corporations. So let’s say you have $400 in unpaid traffic tickets and you show up to court and you’re like, ‘look, I can’t pay this, I just don’t have the money.’ In many places, the court will say, ‘okay, we’re gonna put you on a payment plan,’ and then they’ll turn your case over to a private collections company.
Donovan: Then that private company will not just charge you monthly for the price of the fine, but they’ll also charge you a monthly fee, which is usually a significant percentage of your monthly payment. So by the end, you could end up paying say $500 for your $400 fine.
Josie: So I mentioned earlier about how so many immigration facilities are private facilities but privatization affects immigrants in other ways as well. Here’s a clip from the 70 Million podcast season one (episode 7), an episode called “Undocumented Immigrants are Tethered to ICE, and Private Companies, by Ankle Monitors,” and it’s reported by Ryan Katz.
[Begin 70 Million Clip]
Ryan Katz: ICE detained Armando in 2016 and a judge set his bond at $18,000. There was no way Armando could afford that. So he sat in detention for months. After a little while, he got desperate.
Armando: From there I just decided just had to bail out because, it was, when you’re detained, they give you fast courts and they don’t give you time, you know, for you to gather all your — what you need to fight your case.
Ryan Katz: Armando believed he had a better chance at fighting deportation by getting out of detention. The problem is, most bail companies don’t give loans to immigrants. That’s because immigration bail works differently than traditional bail. Normally, in a criminal case, you can put, say, 10% of your bond up front. Then you and the bail bond company promise to pay the rest if you abscond. But in immigration court, you have to pay the full amount at the beginning, all of it.
Bond companies worry that immigrants will pay only 10%, then skip out, and they’re left with the bill. So when a friend in detention told Armando of a company that would help him post bail anyway, he took his chance.
Libre by Nexus commercial (in Spanish): In Libre by Nexus we reunited more than two thousand families last year. We specialize in-
Ryan Katz: It’s called Libre by Nexus, an immigration bail agent company. The name, Libre, is Spanish for free. In this TV commercial, the presenter is in front of a happy Latino dad with his son on his shoulders.
Libre by Nexus commercial (in Spanish): We can help you now! Call right now at 1-888-
Ryan Katz: Aramando’s wife Mayela called the number and after months in detention, Armando stepped outside of the facility’s walls. But instead of meeting Mayela, he was greeted by a company representative.
The Libre guy drove him to a nearby hotel. They went up to a room, where this guy Armando had never met before, strapped an ankle monitor to his leg. Armando signed some paperwork and they parted ways. Only after did Armando reconnect with his wife.
Armando, and immigrants like him, pay $420 per month to Libre by Nexus. As part of the deal, he agrees to wear the ankle monitor while his case winds its way through court. And at first, Armando wasn’t paying much attention to it at all.
Armando: I didn’t really care about it because I was already out, I was excited. And then from there on that’s when I started seeing the changes.
Ryan Katz: Changes like the dirty looks people gave him at the grocery store. Like the time a neighbor called his landlord on him. Then there was the time he lost the monitor. The Libre by Nexus employee said it would cost $4,000 to replace it.
Armando: I got shocked at that moment. I was like, what?
Ryan Katz: In the end, Armando found the monitor. But at times it hasn’t worked properly. All the while, Armando and Mayela are still paying $420 per month to Libre.
Mayela: I’m like wow, we’ve been paying for the ankle monitor. It hasn’t been working but we still have to pay for it. That’s kind of crazy.
Ryan Katz: In total they’ve paid over $13,000 to Libre by Nexus. And here’s the kicker: none of it goes towards Armando’s bond. It’s just for renting the ankle monitor, for being out of detention. He still has to pay the full bond.
[End 70 Million Clip]
Josie: $13,000 just for an ankle monitor. It’s just unbelievable.
Donovan: It’s wild. You know, I think that there’s been so much conversation around the cost of something like money bail and how, you know, it really is one of the elements of our justice system that really, really discriminates on folks based on how much money they have but this is like another element that I think most people aren’t even aware of.
Josie: Right, exactly. It goes even further than private prisons and private probation and private parole. There are stories of for profit rehab centers, for profit halfway houses that contract with correctional agencies, and for many prisoners who are released, going to these centers is not optional, it’s mandatory. And even though the goal is to provide people with help and safety and resources moving forward, that’s not always what happens.
Donovan: Right. So before we talk to our guest, Bianca Tylek about this, let’s explore why it’s so bad to privatize so many elements of the system. There’s the moral argument and the fact that it shifts the incentive but there’s more. First, there’s almost no regulation or oversight of the private corrections industry. The thing about public facilities isn’t that they’re fantastic for people in prison — often they’re just as bad and sometimes they’re worse than the nearest private prison — the public facilities are subject to at least some oversight and regulation.
Josie: There’s also no consumer choice. So private profit is supposed to be subject to the forces of the free market. We love the free market in America, right? Corporations love the free market. But the free market is predicated on consumer choice. So if the doctor in the jail health unit refuses to properly diagnose someone with sepsis, they can’t just go to another doctor’s office. If the food provided by a company is literally inedible, they can’t go to another restaurant. And if the ankle monitor has cost them so much money that they can’t pay their rent, they can’t just get a new monitor or a cheaper monitor or a cheaper brand. Maybe elected officials who signed the contract have a choice here but the people who are subject to privatization really don’t.
Donovan: And even the elected officials don’t have much choice anymore because there’s so little competition. The biggest private corrections companies like Core Civic and GEO have bought up many of the smaller providers. So the industry is basically run by a few corporate conglomerates, whose yearly profits are in the billions. The article from Inc magazine back in 1984, said quote, “No field better illustrates the method, risk, and potential reward of privatization than corrections.” And that’s mostly true, though it’s not clear that private companies have had to incur much risk at all.
Josie: Right. The bottom line is that corporations and corporate executives are making billions of dollars every year off of people who are criminal justice involved as well as their loved ones. To discuss this a little more we’re going to be joined by Bianca Tylek. Bianca is the Founder and Executive Director of Worth Rises, a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to dismantling the prison industrial complex.
Donovan: Bianca will be with us in just a moment. Stay tuned.
Josie: We’re here with Bianca Tylek, she’s the Founder and Executive Director of Worth Rises. Thank you so much Bianca for joining us.
Bianca Tylek: Thank you so much for having me.
Josie: So tell us a little bit about your background up until you founded Worth Rises.
Bianca Tylek: Sure. So I’ve been doing criminal justice work for a number of years and most recently, prior to founding Worth Rises, was with other organizations in the criminal justice space, working on various things related to the privatization of the criminal legal system. But prior to law school and becoming an attorney, I actually spent a number of years working on Wall Street as an investment banker, and as an investment manager. And so from that perspective, I’ve been able to actually collect a lot of the skills that I built and developed during my time on Wall Street to really build companies and I now use those to essentially dismantle them. So through the lens of understanding finance and and really the vulnerabilities of different corporations, being able to take those and apply them to our work into a sphere that’s much different.
Donovan: So people use the term “prison industrial complex” very loosely. How would you describe the prison industrial complex?
Bianca Tylek: It’s a great point and I think very often we do use it, it’s become jargon in our industry and in our field, and people use it loosely without really knowing what it means. So we do talk about our mission as an organization to dismantle the prison industrial complex. So what is the prison industrial complex? The prison industrial complex is a $80 billion industry, made up of essentially 12 sectors. That’s how we divide the entire space. And those sectors can range from telecom to healthcare to food and commissary to community corrections to prison labor and programs. There’s all these very specific verticals essentially within the prison industrial complex, corporations that work in each of them that together make up this massive industry. And then on top of that, both sort of as the foundation and as those that get all the windfalls you have the investors that are invested in this entire space. And so really, when we’re talking about the prison industrial complex, we are talking about that key word in the middle of the industry that has been built around human caging and control.
Josie: Why this issue? Why is this the sort of issue that you decided to work on in criminal justice? You and I have both been working in this space for a long time, and this has sort of just become where your energy is focused? And I’m wondering, what about this feels particularly relevant to you?
Bianca Tylek: Yes. So a lot of it right is at the core of where we started, which is with my background. My background, having been somebody who worked in finance with corporations, in a very different sense, I realized as I was moving into the criminal justice space that there was a gap around this specific issue of challenging the prison industrial complex, right? We have advocates who are fighting for things like sentencing reform and legalizing marijuana, and all these different worthwhile initiatives and efforts. And they’re all running into a very, very similar issue, which is the industry that lobbies and puts in a lot of campaign financing dollars against those, right? So if you take marijuana, for example, there are three major lobbies against marijuana and once I tell them to you you’re going to be like, ‘wow, that’s so obvious.’ One is private prisons. The second is alcohol. And third is pharmaceuticals. And you realize that this is either like competition or something that’s driving down somebody else’s business. And so when you start unpacking that, and understanding who are your opponents, and then in many cases, these corporations are not visible, right? They’re not the ones in the street, they’re not the elected officials voting no, they’re quietly in people’s offices, they’re quietly filtering money into this space and getting people to vote in their direction. Our approach as an organization really is able to identify some of those bad actors in the background, know that they exist and know what their vulnerabilities are. And so we’ve been working in that way over the last few years and really been able to make, I think, pretty substantial headways for a young organization with this type of initiative. Focusing on that, because we do believe that if we could get those corporations and other commercial actors out of the way, then all the work that other advocates are doing can get through much faster.
Donovan: I see. So, is it not the case that privatization makes prisons more efficient?
Donovan: The devil doesn’t need advocates, but, that’s what people think. Right?
Bianca Tylek: Right. That is a common misconception. Take private prisons, which is like the big thing everybody wants to talk about when you talk about privatization, there’s actually been a number of studies and things, research done, that has shown that privatizing the entire operations of a jail or prison does not necessarily make things cheaper, which is the thing, right? Efficiency is just a fancier word for cheaper. And not only does it not, even in the cases where it may in the initial moment, because that’s all they really need to convince you of is the moment they can transfer operation, but not in the long term. And so literally, as prices sort of go up, and as they charge the government agencies more, we’ve seen different agencies that have chosen to go from private to public and actually saved money.
Josie: Yeah, I think that one thing I find really interesting about privatization is that in the long run for cities or states or municipalities ends up costing a lot of money. Part of that is because of the cost you have to pay if the prison isn’t full or you don’t have enough people on. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Bianca Tylek: Yeah. So what you’re referring to right now, at least in the last example, is occupancy guarantees that are required by many private prison contracts. But the reality is, is yeah, so there’s many private prisons that have occupancy guarantees, which means that if they contract with the jail or prison, they may have an occupancy guarantee of, let’s say, 85, 90, 95 percent and so that even if that jail population or that prison population declines below, lets say, 90 percent of the beds being filled, the government agency will still be required to pay for 90 percent of those beds to be filled, which it creates the entire wrong incentives, right? Because at that point, if the government’s like, ‘well, I’m paying for it anyway then why release people?’
Donovan: Yeah. So maybe one of the things that people associate with privatization that maybe the average listener has come across would be, like you said, telecommunications. But are there other things that it might surprise listeners to sort of learn are also privatized?
Bianca Tylek: Yes. So I actually would say that not even that many people know that telecom is privatized, right? Most people, we find when we do our work, is that when we say privatization, the first thing that everybody thinks is private prisons, and then we hear ridiculous, like we do, you know, a little survey, like how many beds do you think are privatized? And we get something like 90 percent and it’s wild. It’s like this huge red herring. That is not the crux of the issue, right?
Bianca Tylek: Not to say private prisons are not an issue, but certainly not the crux. So you know, private prisons really make up about eight to nine percent of beds in the criminal legal system so far, far, far fewer, a much bigger issue in the immigration sense, immigration detention space, they make up 72 percent of beds. So relatively speaking, although on the absolute basis, given that we have 2.2 million people in our system, they certainly still have a lot more people in private prisons on the criminal legal side than on the immigration side. But there are many, in fact, there are jails that are run by government agencies that are staffed by a local sheriff and staffed by public employees that are correctional officers where almost every single service in that jail has been outsourced and privatized. So telecom services, as you mentioned, but to be clear, telephone services, video calling services. Now they’re starting to introduce tablets, money transfers, laundry services, community corrections, so think about electronic monitoring, right? People pay for the electronic monitors on their ankles. Food. Commissary. The food and commissary is one of my favorite examples because it is one of the things that creates the most perverse incentive and it’s so remarkably obvious and yet, unless we pointed out to a correctional agent, it’s like they miss it, which is they at times will contract with the exact same provider to provide food, and then to provide commissary. So if you’re already making the check straight from the government on the food, which is like flat, which is, you know, a fixed rate, and you provide really, really, really awful food in the mess hall, you can quickly drive everyone to your commissary services to have to buy items and food to supplement the rodent infested feces like food that you’re providing. And so like one of our recommendations is always to ensure that those vendors are not the same vendors. But literally every step of the way you walk in a jail or prison, and you will see private actors. And I want to say also, and I think we’ll get there, but the government is not separate from that, they’re a collaborator and conspirator with these private companies and also profit not just the corporation’s themselves.
Josie: No, let’s talk about that. I want to hear more about what you mean when you say the government’s a collaborator, because I think that’s actually the opposite of what people think when they think about privatization.
Bianca Tylek: Right? So yeah, a lot of people think that when you privatize, it’s just like it’s moving into the private sector, to your point, it’s making things cheaper, more efficient, however we say that. But in reality it’s not what’s happening at all. The government is, for all intents and purposes, conspiring with these companies. They are not the customers of the companies. They are the corporate partners of these companies. And it’s important to draw that distinction. So let me give you an example. Telecom is a great example. So where you have companies that are coming in trying to offer telephone service, one of the leading factors that is considered in the procurement process, between telephone company and the government agency, is what percentage of the revenue that the corporation earns, will be paid back to the government in what they would call commissions, what is essentially a profit sharing agreement, or what advocates will call corporate kickbacks. These commissions can run upwards of 90 percent of the actual rate that’s being charged. And so it’s not just the company that takes home this egregious rate, and you know, and charges these rates in order to generate revenue, they also charge these egregious rates in order to provide the government with revenue. And so these are monopolistic contracts over a jail, right? So when it comes to telephone services, for example, it’s not like the people inside or their families can choose what service they’re going to use. They’re stuck with whoever it is that their jail or their prison decided to contract with. And so you have a situation in which there’s two entities that are allowed to contract together where it’s not a competitive process of negotiation, it’s in fact a partnership to exploit the community that you’re supposed to be serving as a government servant.
Josie: Oh. That’s deep.
Donovan: Yeah, I mean, like you said, it’s sort of like a layer of abuse on top of all the other things that we know about the system to already be abusive, right? So it’s the kind of thing that you have to eliminate within the system. I mean, it sort of makes it impossible to focus on the other areas of advocacy if this thing is still kind of infesting it. You know what I mean?
Bianca Tylek: Well, I would say that the commercialization of the system undermines every other effort, right? So when you have corporations coming in, and I’ll give you an example, talk about trauma and harm, right? Telecom companies a number of years ago devised a technology — say they devised a technology like this was remarkable, Skype exists, video calling is like their technology that they thought was really novel — but it was, you know, novel or innovative for the jail context because jails and prisons are like decades behind the rest of society in technology. And so they started to introduce video calling into jails and prisons, and there’s a number of really, really harmful and unethical things that they did as they started to introduce this technology. First, they decided to call it video visitation and the purpose behind that was to actually synonymize it with the idea of visits. Nobody has ever facetimed their, you know, sister in California when you’re sitting in New York and said, ‘I’m about to visit you.’
Bianca Tylek: What? Never.
Bianca Tylek: No, we have terms for that. Right? They might be distinct terms from call or whatever it is, but there are terms for that and in no way is that a visit. But they did that very intentionally, because what they started to do at that entry point of this technology into facilities, is they required in their contracts, the facilities eliminated in person visits in order to force people to use this very expensive new technology. And so now they went into prisons and jails and said, we have this technology — in the public what they would say is ‘oh, this is great because it brings people closer,’ right? If you’re further away, you don’t have to travel, you don’t have to spend the money, the time, the energy, take time off from work, you can just have a call from home. But with that came egregious pricing and then there was also all the people who wanted to actually hug and hold their loved ones, and if not every single day as often as they can, right? But these facilities literally started to eliminate all of that. And to make the intentionality of that so clear, the majority of places where they eliminated visits were actually jails where typically people are closest to their loved ones, because these are like now in the county system and you’re talking about people who are largely pretrial. There’s so many things that build on that. And after a number of months, they came to some incredible realization that this was unethical. And so they decided to roll back all of these contract provisions and restrictions. So now it’s no longer part of new contracts, this requirement that they eliminate, however, two things one, they still do limit, and we’ve seen contracts very actively where they won’t say, ‘you have to eliminate them,’ but you can only provide one visit per week. Why is a corporation allowed any opportunity to weigh into a visit policy right at all? And then secondly, the damage in large part has been done. When you eliminate visits in a facility, it is incredibly hard to get an agency to now bring them back.
Josie: Right, right.
Bianca Tylek: Right? Like it’s over. And so unless you’re actively working to reverse that, you’ve already done the damage and gotten your benefits. And they’re continuing to benefit from these practices that they had then, while trying to get some social wins around ‘we realized that that was wrong, and we’re pulling back.’
Josie: So this happened, my brother spent some time in the county jail a couple years ago and was there, for I think, about three or four months and this was exactly what happened. Securus, getting video visitation, Securus, and I was in New York so it actually was, to your point, I wouldn’t have been able to see him because he was in Atlanta. However, I paid $30 for 15 minutes of video, I think, and I still get these emails from Securus that are like, ‘featuring a puppy’ and it’ll be like ‘call your loved one right now.’ It’s just really bizarre marketing.
Bianca Tylek: It gets even darker. I’ve seen marketing emails where they’ve been like, ‘your loved one hasn’t heard from you in a while.’ It’s like, are you, what? And imagine you’re, you know, a person with limited means for whom that’s actually really, really painful. There’s a reason I can’t afford to have this contact and you’re in my inbox telling me about how awful a person I am while you’re also charging me.
Josie: Right. And meanwhile, at the same time, my dad’s trying to go to the jail to see him and he can’t get inside. He can’t put money in his commissary directly. He has to do it on you know, it’s just this cycle of the idea that this is just for his benefit is so ridiculous because every effort to actually see him face to face was turned away. You know.
Bianca Tylek: Yeah and it’s interesting because we’ve been in conversation with the owners of Securus now for about eight months or so talking about all these really horrific practices. So Platinum Equities, the private equity firm that owns Securus, they bought Securus in 2017 for $1.6 billion, I mean, these are financiers. Yeah, these are financiers who know nothing about the criminal legal system, criminal justice space, but who see this as a business opportunity, right? Who will spend $1.6 billion to acquire a corporation that devours communities, particularly communities in poverty, and communities of color. And now we’ve been in discussions with them to try to at least address some of the most egregious behaviors, but even that is difficult.
Donovan: That actually brings me to something that I wanted to double back to when you talk about it being a business opportunity for some and a sector that is attractive for some, I think that some people see the prison population starting to slowly go down and they see some of the, you know, news and noise that was made in the Obama administration around ending the federal government’s use of private prisons but that there’s still this — well, Trump reversed that — but also, I think a lot of folks don’t know, that even the Obama administration was not focused on the use of private facilities when it comes to immigration detention, and that that’s a space that largely has gone not really talked about by many politicians. And it seems to me that, even if whoever the next president is takes a similar move with the Obama administration, that unless something is also done about the use of private companies when it comes to detention, that this is still something that we’re going to see.
Bianca Tylek: Yeah, so interestingly enough, our immigration system has rescued the private prison industry a few times in history, when they were actually struggling and the federal government has, quite frankly, rescued the private prison industry on multiple occasions, by handing out contracts when they’re otherwise struggling. You’re absolutely right, a lot of their business is coming from immigration, in fact, about a quarter of their business, which is definitely not negligible. In fact, about half of their business comes from the federal system period. For private prisons, that is. So it is a very, very important issue that needs to be addressed if you are to address private prisons on a whole. We actually drafted a report last year entitled “Immigration Detention in American Business” that really talks about the role of private prisons and other types of corporations that are involved in immigration detention, right? Because it’s not just private prisons again, it is private telecom, it’s also really big in the immigration is technology right? The Amazons, the Microsofts of the world that are supporting technology for ICE and CBP. So there’s a massive industry around immigration detention. I mean, one of the others, GEO Group, which is one of the largest private prisons in the country, they also are the single provider of electronic monitors for the immigration detainee population.
Donovan: They are the single provider?
Bianca Tylek: The single provider, exactly. And it’s their subsidiary called BI. And so BI provides electronic monitors and then there’s also like a secondary one, so should you get bail on immigration, in an immigration case there’s Libre by Nexus, which also does electronic monitoring and Libre by Nexus can charge as much as $400 a month to people in the immigration system to be on an electronic monitor, and then consistently be threatening you with, you know, reporting, obviously to the government and deportation, should you not pay these extortionist rates for supervision.
Josie: So I want to talk a little bit about Worth Rises and the campaign that you guys just had in Connecticut, because I think it highlights sort of all of the ways that this system intersects with our public system with the “public interest,” quote-unquote and watching it from afar was just a fascinating, infuriating, inspiring process. So I’d love for you to tell our listeners a little bit about that.
Bianca Tylek: Sure. So it probably starts with the New York fight just by way of context.
Bianca Tylek: So back in 2018, we led a campaign with a number of coalition members in New York City to pass legislation that would make phone calls out of city jails free. We were successful in that campaign, we had a vote of 47 to three, and through that we were able to make New York City the first city in recent era to actually make phone calls out of its city jails free.
Bianca Tylek: Yeah, it was exciting. It was necessary. That was a city that was collecting an 80 percent commission. That legislation saved directly impacted communities roughly $10 million a year. And so off that we were getting outreach from various legislators from across the country and one was in Connecticut, State Representative Josh Elliott reached out and said, ‘I want to do something similar here.’ And so we worked with Representative Elliott to draft a model legislation and introduce legislation at the state legislature in Connecticut to make phone calls out of all prisons free. The unique thing about Connecticut is as a unified jail and prison system. So it is just one system for all people who are being incarcerated, detained in any way. And so we introduced this legislation in early March of 2018. And there have actually been many times over history in Connecticut, that legislation around free phone calls has been introduced, right? Usually it kind of happened, we were told, about every five years, but it wasn’t until 2018, that any piece of such legislation actually ever got a hearing. And so we got that to a hearing, we had community members come out, directly impacted folks, advocates come out to testify, we had the chair of the Criminal Justice Committee in New York City actually write in testimony in support and a number of other things. As a result of that we were able to get the bill voted positively out of the Public Safety Committee in the House, and then moved to appropriations over a few weeks and positively voted out of appropriations. During that whole time, one thing that did slow us down a lot is that, as you might expect, Securus did in fact spend $40,000 lobbying against our bill and it wasn’t until it was probably about six weeks into their registration and into their work, that we had discovered their registration papers. And at that point, because of our open dialogue with Platinum Equity, their owners, who had committed to me that the company would not be lobbying against our legislation. We spoke with them in a number of choice words, and within a few days, got them to pull all of Securus’ as lobbyists from the state of Connecticut, and issue a letter to our author and to the governor formally withdrawing their opposition to our bill. But during this process, we had a tremendous amount of support from the media, both national and local. It was a fight that people really started to follow. We had a number of directly impacted people within our community and inside tracking the fight. We had a number of people published, directly impacted mothers and spouses and all that published in local papers and more broadly. Senator Warren came out in support on Twitter at one point, and so the fight got really really far. Unfortunately, in the last few hours of session, is when everything came crumbling down. Our bill had made it into an omnibus bill and so we were really excited. Fingers crossed that everything was going to cross the finish line and unfortunately, in the last four hours of session, the entire omnibus bill blew up for reasons other than our bill. That was very disappointing, it was not the type of bill, at that point, that we could raise just on its own. But it was called to the floor and the final hours, just given a little bit of time for different supporters to speak and as well as the opponents and so they did and then in closing, the house majority leader made a commitment on the floor of the House, the speaker, I should say, stating that this would be a bill that would be a priority for the 2020 session.
Josie: It’s just such an example of how you can get 99 percent of the way there and then just how difficult, I mean, you know, making legislative change is massively hard, right? It’s not just do we have enough people supporting our bill? Does the public support it? It’s this whole other kind of calculus that can fall apart, like you said in the last four hours. And there’s no doubt to me that, you know, there’s no doubt in my head that this is gonna pass next time it goes up. It’s just a matter of, you guys did everything right and there are forces that still can get in the way, even when they’re not actually intentionally getting in the way of you.
Bianca Tylek: Well, some were intentionally in the way. (Laughs.)
Bianca Tylek: Yes, and there are many examples of that. I think it was a very, very valiant fight, like fought by a lot of people and we are very much looking forward to this conversation in 2020. In fact, through this period between leading up to the session, we are hosting community meetings throughout Connecticut, really engaging even more people than we did in 2019 in that session, so yeah, it was disappointing. I shed a few tears at the end of session but I’m absolutely convinced we’re gonna get there. And I think worth noting is the fight in Connecticut was followed by people all over the country, not just like national press, but there were local press stories from Pittsburgh to cities and counties in Idaho, that were talking about this legislation in Connecticut saying, ‘well, if they can do this, can we do this where we are?’ And so that’s been really exciting because since what happened in Connecticut, we’ve now seen New York State, Massachusetts introduce bills to make phone calls free across prisons and jails. California introduced a legislation to dramatically reduce the cost of calls and put a cap on the cost of calls. We’ve gotten interest from probably another half dozen states that we expect to introduce legislation, some much sooner than others.
Donovan: Yeah. Well, let’s talk strategy. You mentioned earlier that your background is in finance. Can you tell us more about how you leverage that experience to, you know, go after these companies?
Bianca Tylek: Yes. So I think that the Connecticut example around how we were able to get them to pull their lobbyists is a really good example in terms of exactly what we do. So when we’re pushing legislation or policy change or regulation or whatever it might be, that’s sort of the public facing side that’s what, you know, you know, electorates can do, that’s what community power can do, all of that. But in the back end, we’re also going after the corporations and their investors really, really strongly. What do I mean by that? I mean, Platinum Equity, this company that owns Securus, this private equity firm, every few years, the way that private equity works and for the sake of a little bit of explanation, because I know most people don’t know how private equity works.
Bianca Tylek: So I describe private equity firms as basically large scale firms that like flip houses but rather than houses they flip companies. So, you know, whereas you might buy a house, if you’re a contractor or somebody who engages in that kind of business, you might buy a house that needs a little bit of TLC, you might invest a little bit of money in making it work better or look prettier and then you might do an addition, why not? Make it a little bigger and then after a little bit of time, you would sell that company or that house rather, and you would hope that all your investments create returns. Well, private equity firms do the same thing with companies, with corporations, right? So they purchase corporations that they think that they can somehow add “efficiency” to and my air quotes around “efficiency,” because usually when they say we’re going to “find synergies” between two companies when they do an acquisition or they “find efficiencies,” that basically means they’re laying off people.
Bianca Tylek: That is what that means.
Donovan: Oh is this what Mitt Romney did?
Bianca Tylek: Yes.
Donovan: It sounds about right.
Bianca Tylek: Yeah. So this is what private equity does. The way that they go out and buy these companies is that they raise these funds every few years, right? So they would raise a flagship fund, they usually really simply name them, like number them, fund one, fund two, fund three. And so it was fund three at Platinum Equity, which is a $6.5 billion dollar fund that they had raised, that was then used to go out and buy Securus. So every three to four to five years, when they’re starting to run all the capital down from their prior fund, they go out and start raising more money. Now, who are their major investors? Their investors are major pensions, endowments, all money that we actually in large part of society touches, right? And so in the case-
Donovan: Universities sometimes, right?
Bianca Tylek: Correct. Universities. But this example I’m going to lend to you is about city pensions and state pensions. And so in the case of Platinum Equity, their two largest investors are the City of New York, and the Pennsylvania Public School Employees Retirement System, or the Public Teachers Fund of Pennsylvania. Hopefully you might recognize some irony here in New York City became the first city to make phone calls free, and yet is the single largest investor in the very company that does this. Period.
Bianca Tylek: And so that’s something that we don’t talk about and in fact, you know, the comptroller of New York City who’s been an intentional supporter of criminal justice efforts, and particularly around deprivatizing and ending commercialization and he recently released a report about eliminating fines and fees, and it included making phone calls free throughout the state, it included ending the cost of money transfers, ending payment processing fees, except in New York, both in New York City and New York State, the company that is responsible for every single one of those services, is invested in by the New York City pension, right? Of whom the comptroller is a fiduciary on most of those pensions, right?
Bianca Tylek: And so, yeah, you can talk about villainizing the corporations and by all means, we do and we must, but we must hold our cities and our electeds accountable about where they’re moving money because they think that that’s invisible. The reality is most people don’t know anything about private equity. Platinum Equity would be so incredibly thankful to just remain invisible. They’re happy collecting a paycheck if it’s not their name in the paper. Securus can be in the paper all day long, so long as it’s not connected to them. And so our job, and why what we do is a little bit different is because we make sure that they are held accountable, that the pensions that invest in them are held accountable, that they are not invisible, that they are exposed to the public about what they’re doing. And so in particular, I sort of joke that Platinum gets probably a call from a journalist like every other week because of us (laughs) and it’s driving them absolutely mad. A little while ago, there was a big feature article in the LA Times about the owner of Platinum Equity, and his ownership of this asset and how problematic and troubling it is. But we showed up at the Pennsylvania Public School Teachers Pension and we testified in front of the board, and really challenged them around this and we got a president of one of the school lunch workers unions in Philadelphia to write a op-ed in the Philly Inquirer, about how this investment, you know, did not align with the values of the pensioners. Going at it from all these different angles, but specifically coming at where they get their money from, which unless, like I said, you have a good understanding of how private equity works, how pension investments are made, it would be hard to do, but that’s what gives us a lot of leverage in moving into these spaces.
Josie: The concepts that we’re talking about, they’re big concepts, right? We’re talking about budgets, we’re talking about corporations, we’re talking about private equity. Talk to us about some of the human stories that keep you invested in a space and that you think about when you’re standing in front of a legislature or fighting, you know, a corporation, how do you see this touching real people and not just the people in the prisons but their families, you know, their communities?
Bianca Tylek: Yeah, thank you. So I think I’m obviously moved by stories like your brother’s and others who are system involved. We were organizing with a few folks in Connecticut. So one of the things we do when we’re in a fight locally is that we randomly mail people in prison or jails or whatever it is the system that we’re in, and we sort of tell them, introduce ourselves, tell them what we’re doing, tell them what we’re working on, we tell them how to get engaged and so we sent in, for example, letters, templates that they could send to their legislators, but we also invited them to send their families to us, right? And to come organize with us to meet us at the Capitol and we got a lot of calls. I mean, this is literally how we do a ton of our outreach and the story of Caitlin, the story of Diane, Caitlin’s husband is incarcerated in Connecticut. And she reached out and she said, ‘My husband’s neighbor got your letter, I want to know what I can do.’ And we were able to lift her story all the way up into mainstream media, national media that was covering this, but Caitlin is a young woman who unfortunately actually just lost her job a few weeks ago right after our fight, but, you know, who supports her husband and has daily calls with him. And you know, we should say, Connecticut is the third most expensive state in the country for calls out of a prison with a 15 minute call running as much as nearly $5. It’s much worse in jails I’ll say, the cost of a 15 minute call can go up to almost $25. But folks like Caitlin or Diane, Diane is somebody that I’ve gotten close to since our fight in Connecticut. She was a mother, her son was incarcerated in Connecticut for more than 10 years and she was with us in the Capitol more than once a week and she talked about, I got to read a statement of hers during a press conference and she said, you know, ‘Just because my son went to prison doesn’t make me any less of a mother, I still want to know if my son is okay. So at the end of the day, there’s going to be a gas bill that goes, there’s going to be an electricity bill that goes, there’s going to be a car bill that goes because I need to know that my son is okay.’ And we helped Diane write a letter to the editor during this whole fight. There was an article that went out and there was a democratic elected official who stated and had a quote in that article that said, ‘Well, until we figure the money situation out, this bill isn’t going anywhere.’ And so we worked with Diane to write a piece in response to this statement, where she said, ‘Every day I have to figure it out. Every day, I have to figure out what meal I’m going to skip, what doctor’s appointment I’m not going to go to, what bill I’m not going to pay so that I can talk to my son. Like, is this still a responsibility you’re going to put on me to figure it out everyday or are you actually going to figure it out?’ So yeah, to your point, Josie, we work really closely with the community and so we get to hear every single day, unfortunately, the harm caused by these companies and by governments cooperation and partnership with them, and really need to lift up these stories more and more to ensure people hear us.
Donovan: Yeah. Well, that makes me wonder, Bianca, how can other impacted folks, other pensioners, just those of us that care about this issue, get more involved in the work that you do with Worth Rises?
Bianca Tylek: Sure, all of our campaigns are listed on our website, and we, you know, send out mailers about them. So I would highly encourage folks to go to www.worthrises.org where you can sign up for our newsletter, you can also take a look at all the campaigns. There are right now, actively, petitions that you can sign, calls that you can be making to legislators, community meetings that you can be showing up to and so all that information is there. We also do have a very active social media, so on Twitter and on Instagram and on Facebook at Worth Rises. Not only do we share, obviously all of the work that we’re doing and ways for people to plug in, but also opportunities to learn more. So we do post very regularly sort of all of the things that are happening across the country that are related to this and so that people can really understand what is the prison industrial complex. And then finally, I’d say, we are also getting ready to launch a large public education campaign about the prison industrial complex that will actually educate folks on a weekly basis about a new sector. We are releasing an interactive action oriented digital museum about the prison industrial complex and so if you sign up for our newsletter, you’ll definitely get information about how to plug into weekly webinars and other information and get information about that museum.
Josie: Phenomenal. This was just so great. I feel like I just did a whole year’s worth of classes.
Donovan: Like I thought I knew a little bit.
Josie: I know.
Donovan: I’m also terrified because I’m like, wow, the scale of this thing is tremendous.
Bianca Tylek: Yes, it really is. It’s overwhelming.
Josie: But it’s really, I feel so hopeful that we have you guys working on this and someone who just gets it as much as you do and we’re so grateful for you joining us. Thank you so much for taking the time.
Bianca Tylek: Thank you so much for having me, I really appreciate it. And thank you for all the work that you guys are doing.
Josie: Thanks again to our guest Bianca Tylek. It was really, really amazing to hear from Bianca about her advocacy and about the work that Worth Rises is doing. We’re so grateful she joined us today. For show notes and for more resources about the issues we talked about on the show, please visit theappeal.org. And don’t forget to check out Bianca’s book bonus as well. You can find it wherever you listen to podcasts or on theappeal.org
Donovan: Thanks for listening to Justice in America. I’m Donovan Ramsey.
Josie: I’m Josie Duffy Rice.
Donovan: You can find us on Twitter @Justice_Podcast or on Facebook page at Justice in America and subscribe and rate us on Apple Podcasts.
Josie: Justice in America is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. The production assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Research assistance was by Nawal Arjini. Bianca’s interview was recorded at Relic Room Studios and the engineer was Josh Hahn. Thank you so much everyone for listening.
Donovan: We’ll catch you next time.
Bianca Tylek’s Book Recommendation
Josie: Hi, I’m Josie Duffy Rice and this is the justice in America book bonus. I’m here with Bianca Tylek. She’s the executive director and founder of Worth Rises. So Bianca, can you tell us what you’ve been reading lately?
Bianca Tylek: Sure. So, thankfully, there’s actually been a lot more coverage of the issue around prison privatization and prison profiteering, and the prison industrial complex more generally. So I think the best things to read around our issues are really a bunch of like long form articles that have recently come out. So over the last few months, The Nation did a cover piece of their magazine called Prisoners of Profits and say a long form piece around the role of private equity in this space. The Atlantic recently did a piece on prison health care. LA Times recently did a long form piece about prison telecom and the role of private equity. From a more sort of a slightly older base, there’s a book called Prison Profiteers (Who Makes Money from Mass Incarceration edited by Tara Herivel and Paul Wright) that is a little older now. But it has a lot of really amazing information. It’s a collection of essays around different aspects of the prison industrial complex. And then there’s also the John Oliver piece, there’s a John Oliver piece about prison labor and the cost of incarceration that’s been shifted onto incarcerated people in their support networks. So yeah, I think that there’s a number of pieces throughout different outlets that have been really, I think, encapsulating and illuminating a lot of the issues in our area.
Josie: Awesome. Thank you.
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