JustUS Voices storyteller Juliette Lett analyzes the profit motive behind criminal justice policy.



As I sit listening to the radio and ponder on my thoughts about today’s political climate, I can’t help but remember what my political science professor stated to the class on our first day. “If at the end of this course you haven’t come to the conclusion that politics is all about money, I haven’t done my job,” He said.

One of the areas that has become politicized is prisons. In my opinion, politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, have sold American people to the highest bidder. They have allowed tax dollars to be used and misused for political gain, backed by privatization of prisons by millionaire and billionaire campaign donors.

Blacks and other minorities have suffered significantly worse than our Caucasian brothers and sisters. Studies and statistics prove this fact.

The United States was built on racism, violence, and greed at the expense of my ancestors, Africans stolen from the Motherland and brought here to “make America great.” And those principles are just as prevalent today as it was before the Civil War.

Jails and prisons before and during the Jim Crow era were predominantly for Black men. Today’s sheriff’s badge bears a striking resemblance to the slave patrol badges that were given to KKK members and other racist bounty hunters that wanted to make a profit on capturing runaway slaves.

That old saying “the rich get richer and poor get poorer” is not just a cliché. We see it happening as a global phenomenon. However America is the only country that has a prison population of 2.2 million adults. Add to this the estimated 4.7 million adults are on parole. That is staggering for a country that is 4.4% of the world’s population yet, 22% of the world’s prisoners. Five states, all in the South, have the highest prisoners per capita: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas.

The states with the highest female prisoners: Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas, Idaho, Georgia and Wyoming.

I imagine Ronald Regan issued the call to his billionaire buddies to brainstorm at their country clubs and golf resorts on how they could increase their profits. Their logical solution was the “war on drugs” and “law and order” politics. Enter the 1980’s crack epidemic in predominantly Black neighborhoods and it was no coincidence that the “tough on crime” politics sounded the dog whistle to “lock them niggers up.”

Blacks and Latinos suffered most, and it’s no coincidence that the private prison industry began building new prisons and locked in a monopoly on other prison services. This was the start of a domino effect for the wealthy seeking to profit from others’ pain.

Prisons for profit has affected my family. In the 1980’s several of my family members were caught up in the judicial system and were convicted and sentenced to terms in the California Department of Corrections. At that time you were able to call home if your family had a landline. If your family chose to, they could accept or decline a collect call. You would be charged on your monthly phone bill. You could also send quarterly packages to your loved ones by buying clothes, tennis shoes, dress shoes, personal hygiene items, food, TVs and music through special purchase slips. You could go to the local post office, buy a one-pound box and the contents could weigh up to 27 pounds. Usually our loved one would send a list of the items they wished to receive. They could receive these “care packages” four times a year. That is no longer the case.  Now, other billionaires have received contracts from city, county, state, and federal prisons to be solely responsible for supplying these services.

Gone are the choices for the people trying to support loved ones behind those walls. It has been granted to the greedy politicians and their big money campaign donors.

GTL (Global Tel Link) is a Texas based phone company that is the ONLY company you can use to accept calls from inmates in county jails and state prisons. There are seven companies that supply care packages to inmates to inmates throughout this country. The three largest are Walkenhorst,  Access SecurePak, and Union Supply Direct.    The four smaller ones are JustRight Packages,    Golden State Packages, Inmate Care packages, and get this, inmate packages, which is owned and operated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department union.

Many of these company stockholders are politicians and campaign contributors, both Democrats and Republicans. There are profits to be made for locking people up and as long as these are the same individuals that are shaping our laws by “bribing” our Members of Congress and state senators, they will continue to profit from our pain.

This is why it is so difficult to get legislation passed to prevent so many of these big corporate mergers. Not only are our loved ones who are incarcerated being punished for crimes they may (or may not) have committed, but family members are also being subject to punishment as well.

Many family members can’t afford the cost of phone calls or have the ability to pay the extremely high prices of those care packages. This only deepens the wounds of separation that are felt when a loved one is locked up.

It tears at the very heart of your soul. It is a comfort when you can speak to your family or receive a care package. This luxury has been taken away for too many individuals. There is nothing about this system of justice we have in America that says rehabilitation. It is more about punishment for some and wealth for the others.


Juliette Lett, 55, is a certified addiction specialist, mental health social worker for citizens on parole, social media enthusiast and advocate of interventions to help women find the path to recovery and sobriety through treatment.