You may have heard news reports of prisoners transported for days in crowded, conditions, their basic needs ignored. It would be easy to think that kind of thing happens overseas, in places with fewer resources than the US, but it’s also happening here.
Just last month, the Washington Post reported that Edward Kovari, 39, was kept shackled for almost three weeks in a transport van, after a police officer incorrectly identified his 2005 Pontiac Sedan as stolen. Kovari was arrested, charged on a fugitive warrant and extradited to Houston.
What followed was a horrific 18-day ordeal. En route from Virginia to Texas, Kovari was denied his blood pressure medication at a time when he needed it the most. His lawsuit alleges how, at one point, he was forced to lie on the floor of an overcrowded van amid human waste, with another detainee’s foot resting on his stomach.
Prisoner transportation is a major part of the industry that supports America’s systemic mass incarceration. These are for-profit companies that contract with local, state and federal law enforcement bodies the same way that for-profit prison companies (like Geo Group and CoreCivic) do. The incentives that drive these companies are as distorted as those that drive private prison operators: profit above human dignity.
An in-depth report from The Marshall Project, a nonprofit specializing in criminal justice journalism, breaks down the perfect storm of factors that culminate in the dehumanizing treatment of individuals like Edward Kovari:
- Training for drivers and guards in the transport vans is brief and far from comprehensive
- Companies are paid to transport as many prisoners as far as possible, incentivizing them to jam-pack vans and stop infrequently
- Responsibility for regulation of prisoner transport is unclear, given that transport vehicles often cross county and state lines
What results are tense trips where drivers and guards don’t trust detainees and detainees have no one to ensure guards behave responsibly. While Kovari survived (though he had to be hospitalized for two days), others have not, including one individual who died from what a coroner described as a “perfectly treatable” ulcer. Detainees have also reported being beaten and sexually assaulted by guards.
What’s worth noting is that much of the outrage over Kovari’s treatment is due to his innocence, but even guilty individuals deserve dignity and respect in their treatment. Unfortunately, transportation isn’t the only area where the incarcerated are mistreated.
Stories from states across the US describe the horrifying lack of healthcare that prisoners are subjected to by Corizon, a private, for-profit prison medical services provider. The Southern Pacific Law Center filed a suit on behalf of prisoners in Alabama, on the grounds that Corizon had denied treatment to prisoners, failed to follow through on prescriptions, ignored doctors’ orders, and placed prisoners under “do not resuscitate” orders – without the prisoners’ consent. A similar situation in Arizona also resulted in a lawsuit against the state.
It’s not hard to see how for-profit medical care for a vulnerable population like the incarcerated could quickly go wrong. Much like with prison transport companies, prison medical providers are incentivized to reduce costs, resulting in fewer doctors and nurses and fewer counseling appointments for mentally ill inmates.
Combined with frequent lack of oversight from state authorities and the large prison populations created by mandatory minimums, healthcare understaffing can lead to tragic long-term consequences.
The privatization of prisons and prison services has shifted back into favor since Attorney General Jeff Sessions took charge of the Department of Justice. While congress is considering passing some reforms, there’s not much standing in the way of contractors continuing to profit off the mistreatment of prisoners.
As an investor, you can fight these battles on your own terms, with your money. When you invest with OpenInvest, you can choose to divest from any company profiting from America’s penal system and the individuals trapped inside it.
Find out more about how the exploitative nature of the prison industrial complex here.