Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer is General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ. He is a former Conference Minister of the UCC Southwest Conference.
Posts By This Author
Repairing the Damage of White Privilege
I have been writing, speaking, and teaching about the manifestations and impact of white privilege since I finished my doctoral work on the subject in 2004, and one of the more difficult subjects to address with white audiences is the question of reparations. While white people tend to frame the subject as a discussion about how much money is going to be taken away from them, there is another way to think about it. Getting white people to give up wealth is a bit of a non-starter, no matter how persuasive the argument might be for its justification.
Ending the Scourge of For-Profit Prisons
BETWEEN 1980 and 2013, the federal prison population increased by 800 percent, according to the Department of Justice, at a far-faster rate than the Bureau of Prisons could handle. By 2013, approximately 15 percent of BOP’s prisoners were housed in for-profit prisons.
In August, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it will no longer contract with private prisons for housing federal prisoners. “[Private prisons] simply do not provide the same level of correctional service, programs, and resources,” said Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. “They do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security.”
Within weeks, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson responded to DOJ by directing his teams “to evaluate whether the immigration detention operations conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] should move in the same direction”—to evaluate whether ICE should eliminate contracts with for-profit immigration detention companies. There is no need for a review. Multiple reports, from human rights organizations and the Department of Justice itself, give damning evidence against the inhumane practices of for-profit prisons and detention centers.
As the leader of a Christian denomination, I feel a deep obligation to pay attention to foundational passages from our sacred texts in the midst of the current challenges we face as a country. When it comes to prisoners and immigrants, two passages are bedrock for me. Leviticus 19:34 reminds us to love foreigners as we love ourselves. In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus prioritizes the vulnerable. He issues a clear call for those who follow him to care for the stranger, the prisoner, the naked, the hungry, and the thirsty.
Justice in the Era of Private Prisons
We can no longer turn a blind eye to what profit margins do to prisoners, more and more of whom are from vulnerable populations. We are called to dismantle the corrupt justice system of mass incarceration. Ending private prison profiteering is a critical step towards restorative justice for all.