After the election returns of 2016 announced Trump’s victory and sent shock waves through most, but not all, of America, even the stock markets went down. Momentarily. In fact one publicly traded stock that immediately went up in value after the election of Donald Trump was from the private prison industry: Corrections Corporation of America (now called CoreCivic) and GEO Group.
This is the harbinger of the worst things to come for black and brown activists in the criminal justice, policing and drug policy reform field. And if Senator Jeff Sessions becomes U.S. Attorney General much of the progress made by President Obama is at risk.
On police practices alone the Obama administration filed pattern and practice suits against police departments repeatedly. New Orleans, Seattle, Cleveland, Ferguson were all targeted. And for Latino communities, suits against police in Suffolk County, Long Island for a mostly Salvadoran community were instrumental as was the litigation in Puerto Rico – with a police force second in size only to that of New York City – where the police repeatedly cracked down with unreasonable force against peaceful protestors.
Under this “law and order” president we can expect the consent decrees to lapse with no aggressive law enforcement and a blind, unaccountable loyalty to police. These court decrees covered everything from use of force, to diversity employment, language access, racial profiling and even the economic inequality that is ingrained in a broken criminal justice system.
Private prisons had already been smacked down a bit when Obama’s Justice Department announced that it would end all contracts between the federal Bureau of Prisons and the private prison industry. The reason was clear: the data show that use of force in private prisons was more frequently used than in government run prisons. But contracts with the Bureau of Prisons only affect tens of thousands of prisoners. The larger issue was the use of private prisons as immigration detention centers by the Department of Homeland Security. Well over 400,000 immigrants are housed in those decrepit, over-capacity private facilities where violence against immigrants is frequent. Congress actually incentivizes aggressive and unnecessary immigration law enforcement by requiring a quota of 34,000 beds filled in immigration detention centers on a daily basis – otherwise the federal government pays the difference to the private corporations that run these centers. Immigration Control and Enforcement police are the only police in the country that face such a productivity quota – and immigrants, mostly Latino and black, are paying the price. If Trump’s promise of finding and deporting an additional two to three million immigrant criminals comes anywhere close to fruition expect these private prison facilities to increase their capacity to the delight of their investors.
Under this scenario it surely does not help immigrants to know that Senator Sessions has opposed even bipartisan immigration reform and has aligned himself many times with the Federation for American Immigration Reform founded by John Tanton who espoused white nationalist beliefs and wants to preserve a “European-American majority” in this country.
Hate crimes prosecutions by the federal government are also likely to go down in this new administration. The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice prosecuted a record number of hate crimes in the last eight years. But given the hate that the Trump campaign already unleashed and how it energized his base of support, do not be surprised if hate crime cases go down.
Senator Sessions voted against the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court, the first Latina to so serve, as he voted against Loretta Lynch to become U.S. Attorney General, the first black woman to occupy the position. He has opposed the elimination of felon disfranchisement as loudly as he opposes the sanctuary cities movement. He has called to an end to birthright citizenship, a legacy of the Civil War and a mainstay of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and the efforts of Dredd Scott to be treated as a free black man at the time. And he opposes curbs on mandatory minimum sentences and easing the enforcement of marijuana possession.
In short, Trump’s pick for Attorney General in a new administration that already promises “law and order” as a crackdown on civic engagement and protests by black and brown communities is poised to set back criminal justice, policing and drug policy reform for decades. If we let it.
Juan Cartagena is President and General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF. His Urban Agenda column is sponsored by the Community Service Society of New York (CSS), the leading voice on behalf of low-income New Yorkers for more than 170 years. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. The Urban Agenda is available on CSS’s website: www.cssny.org.