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Mother Jones’ Hit Job on Unions: With Friends Like These...

by Anders Lindall and Chris Policano  |  March 06, 2013

Mother Jones’ Hit Job on Unions: With Friends Like These...

It may be true that, in the words of The Godfather’s Michael Corleone, it’s important to keep your enemies closest. But, as Mother Jones recently proved, you have to keep your friends close, too.

On Feb. 22, the progressive magazine published on its website an article that took AFSCME and other unions to task for “furthering America’s addiction to mass incarceration.”

Mother Jones is an important voice, normally outside of the mainstream media’s anti-union chorus.

But boy did they get this one wrong.

In reality, the issue of “mass incarceration” never entered the Tamms prison debate – which itself was part of a much wider debate about Illinois prison closures over the past year. The pro-closure side of that debate argued five prisons should be shuttered because the state couldn’t afford them.

AFSCME Council 31 – which represents Illinois corrections officers – argued that it was wrong and dangerous to close any prison at a time when the state’s all-time high population of more than 49,000 adult inmates is crowded into prisons built for just 32,000. Our case was for the safety of workers, the dignity of inmates and the security of the general public.

Mother Jones neglected to mention Council 31’s efforts to prevent the closure of the Dwight Correctional Center for women and three secure halfway houses known as Adult Transition Centers. These facilities offer programs that have been uniquely successful in reducing recidivism, and in speaking out to keep them open, the union has been joined by the state’s leading inmate advocacy group, the John Howard Association. The union and inmate advocates agree that the closures would worsen overcrowding, violence and inmate living conditions throughout the rest of the state prison system.

The authors of the piece also failed to note the union’s support for legislation passed last year to reinstate the awarding of good-time credits for inmates. AFSCME supported this legislation because it could be a positive first step toward relieving dangerous and degrading overcrowding. Moreover, when responsibly administered, good-time incentives are a crucial tool to encourage the completion of rehabilitative programs that reduce recidivism and reward safe comportment and good behavior.

Efforts to limit overcrowding, preserve rehabilitative programs and reinstate good-time credits may be a lot of things, but “furthering America’s addiction to mass incarceration” they’re not.

In reality, incarceration rates are driven by criminal statutes and sentencing laws, not by our union’s insistence on maintaining safe conditions in the prisons where our members work or our advocacy for the rehabilitative programs they administer.

Make no mistake, there are significant problems plaguing America’s corrections system. Chief among them, the danger posed to our communities, inmates and our nation’s corrections workers by turning public prisons into private, profit-making institutions. Corrections Corporation of America last year sent a letter to our nation’s governors offering to buy their prisons in exchange for a 20-year guarantee that the prisons would remain 90% occupied. As shocking as this is, so-called “bed guarantees” are not uncommon. If you want to figure out what’s driving our nation’s addiction to mass incarceration, follow the money.

Mother Jones would better serve its readers by shining a light on prison privateers’ toxic agenda, not by inaccurately attacking those of us who work every day to help our communities.

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