Fact: More than 100,000 individuals in the US are held in private prisons and private immigration detention centers. These institutions are criticized for making money off mass incarceration―$5 billion every year―and have become a focus of the anti-mass incarceration movement. The Department of Justice under President Obama attempted to cut off private prisons, while DOJ under Trump has embraced these institutions.
Few journalists or scholars have seen these prisons firsthand―until now. Lauren-Brooke Eisen―senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice―launched of her new book, Inside Private Prisons, and reflected on her unprecedented access to our nation’s private penal system and what she uncovered about these corporate prisons. She was joined by Glenn Martin of JustLeadershipUSA and CNN's Laura Jarrett for the discussion.
This program was produced by The Brennan Center for Justice in partnership with the NYU John Brademas Center, and hosted by NYU Washington, DC.
Lauren-Brooke Eisen is Senior Counsel in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program where she focuses on improving the criminal justice process through legal reforms, specifically how the criminal justice system is funded.
Eisen is the author of a forthcoming book Inside Private Prisons: An American Dilemma in the Age of Mass Incarceration, which will be published by the Columbia University Press in November 2017.
Previously Ms. Eisen was a Senior Program Associate at the Vera Institute of Justice in the Center on Sentencing and Corrections where she worked on policies that aimed to improve public safety while reducing prison populations. Ms. Eisen also served as an assistant district attorney in New York City where she served in the Appeals Bureau, the Criminal Court Bureau, and the Sex Crimes Special Victims Bureau where she prosecuted a wide range of misdemeanor and felony cases. Before entering law school, Ms. Eisen worked as a beat reporter for a daily newspaper in Laredo, Texas where she covered criminal justice issues. Ms. Eisen has taught an undergraduate seminar on mass incarceration at Yale, served as an adjunct instructor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and supervises NYU Law students who participate in the Brennan Center Public Policy Advocacy Clinic.
She has expertise in state sentencing and correctional reform, legislative drafting, bipartisan commissions, state corrections and courts, and implementing evidence-based criminal justice practices with departments of corrections. She also serves on the Advisory Council of the New York City Bar’s Task Force on Mass Incarceration.
Her work has been published by the Vera Institute of Justice, The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, The Loyola University New Orleans College of Law Journal of Public Interest Law, Politico, the Marshall Project, the Justice Policy Institute, the American Constitution Society, the New York Law Journal, the Crime Report, MSNBC, The USA Today, Roll Call, The Huffington Post, The Times-Picayune, The Albany Times-Union, Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, and the Hill. She holds an AB from Princeton University and a JD from the Georgetown University Law Center.
Glenn E. Martin is the President and Founder of JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA), an organization dedicated to cutting the U.S. correctional population in half by 2030. He is part of the vanguard of advocates working to make that future a reality. His goal is to amplify the voice of the people most impacted, and to position them as reform leaders. At its core, JLUSA challenges the assumption that formerly incarcerated people lack the skills to thoughtfully weigh in on policy reform. Rather, JLUSA is based on the principle that people closest to the problem are also the people closest to its solution.
Mr. Martin speaks from personal experience, having spent six years incarcerated in a New York State prison in the early 1990s. That experience has informed his career, which has been recognized with honors such as the 2017 Brooke Russell Astor Award, 2016 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award and the 2014 Echoing Green Black Male Achievement Fellowship. Mr. Martin is also the founder of the #CLOSErikers campaign. Prior to founding JLUSA, he was the Vice President of The Fortune Society, the Co-Director of the National HIRE Network at the Legal Action Center, and the co-founder of the Education from the Inside Out Coalition.
Mr. Martin’s bold, unflinching leadership is recognized by leaders from across the political spectrum. Praise from Karol V. Mason, Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs is representative of the accolades he has received: “Thanks to you and so many other like you, we are on our way to restoring common sense to our corrections policies and correcting a terrible imbalance in this country.” Mr. Martin is a sought after public speaker and a frequent media guest appearing on national news outlets such as NPR, MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, Al Jazeera and CSPAN.
Despite these accolades and achievements, Mr. Martin has continued to experience the stigma of a record, even while being recognized as a national justice reform leader. He was invited to the White House in 2015 to discuss mass incarceration and law enforcement issues. Before being allowed to enter, he was separated from his colleagues by the Secret Service and required to wear a special credential and have an escort—all due to his past conviction. After this embarrassing episode, he was ushered into his scheduled meeting late, after all other guests had been seated and the justice reform meeting had already begun without him. The irony was not lost on Mr. Martin. Leveraging his national platform, he published an open letter to President Obama in the Wall Street Journal, explaining that this type of treatment “erodes the life” of principles of justice and fairness. He was later invited back to the White House to speak on a panel and meet with President Obama. Today Mr. Martin continues to use his multiple platforms to influence justice policy and lift up the voices of those most impacted.
Laura Jarrett joined CNN in September 2016 as a reporter based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.
Prior to joining CNN, Jarrett worked as a litigation attorney in Chicago. In private practice, Jarrett focused on defending companies and individuals in government investigations brought by the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as complex commercial litigation. Jarrett also devoted significant time to pro bono cases, including the representation of a sex trafficking victim who successfully used a new Illinois law to expunge her past convictions.
Prior to practicing law, Jarrett served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Rebecca Pallmeyer on the Northern District of Illinois and later for the Honorable Ann C. Williams on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
Jarrett attended Harvard Law School where she was Articles Selection co-chair, an Article Editor, and a Technical Editor for the Harvard Journal of Law and Gender, and published her own articles on the intersection of gender, violence, and the law. Upon graduating in 2010, Jarrett was admitted to practice law in both state and federal court in Illinois.
When the tough-on-crime politics of the 1980s overcrowded state prisons, private companies saw potential profit in building and operating correctional facilities. Today more than a hundred thousand of the 1.5 million incarcerated Americans are held in private prisons in twenty-nine states and federal corrections. Private prisons are criticized for making money off mass incarceration—to the tune of $5 billion in annual revenue.
Based on Lauren-Brooke Eisen’s work as a prosecutor, journalist, and attorney at policy think tanks, Inside Private Prisons blends investigative reportage and quantitative and historical research to analyze privatized corrections in America.
From divestment campaigns to boardrooms to private immigration-detention centers across the Southwest, Eisen examines private prisons through the eyes of inmates, their families, correctional staff, policymakers, activists, Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees, undocumented immigrants, and the executives of America’s largest private prison corporations. Private prisons have become ground zero in the anti-mass-incarceration movement. Universities have divested from these companies, political candidates hesitate to accept their campaign donations, and the Department of Justice tried to phase out its contracts with them. On the other side, impoverished rural towns often try to lure the for-profit prison industry to build facilities and create new jobs. Neither an endorsement or a demonization, Inside Private Prisons details the complicated and perverse incentives rooted in the industry, from mandatory bed occupancy to vested interests in mass incarceration. If private prisons are here to stay, how can we fix them? This book is a blueprint for policymakers to reform practices and for concerned citizens to understand our changing carceral landscape.