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Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 13 Apr 2014

-Jury Nullification Can Veto Prison Profiteering


Fence_of_Prison-BPOAn article in the Republic Report comments on the curious nature of lobbying being done by for-profit prison interests that profit from captive labor forced to work FAR below market wages.

Are Prison Labor Companies Lobbying to Keep Prisoners in Jail for Nonviolent Offenses?

In recent months, a broad, cross-ideological coalition has pressed forward to reform mandatory minimum prison sentencing. In some cases mandatory minimum sentencing can lead to a lifetime in jail for nonviolent offenders. But a strange group has appeared on lobby disclosure forms reviewed by Republic Report. Prison labor companies are attempting to influence the bill, and they refuse to reveal what they’re doing and why.

The group is called the Correctional Vendors Association, an organization that represents companies that use prison labor to produce everything from furniture to clothing goods. CVA has spent $240,000 on lobbying over the past year, and forms show the organization is interested in shaping the outcome of the Justice Safety Valve Act, or S.619, a bill proposed Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) to allow judges to impose a sentence below the mandatory minimum in many cases, including drug-related sentences.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union’s report “Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration”:

Leading private prison companies essentially admit that their business model depends on high rates of incarceration. For example, in a 2010 Annual Report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison company, stated: “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by… leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices… .”

This Justice Policy Insitute report “Gaming the System: How the Political Strategies of Private Prison Companies Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies” argues that:

While private prison companies may try to present themselves as just meeting existing “demand” for prison beds and responding to current “market” conditions, in fact they have worked hard over the past decade to create markets for their product. As revenues of private prison companies have grown over the past decade, the companies have had more resources with which to build political power, and they have used this power to promote policies that lead to higher rates of incarceration.

So it seems reasonable then to inquire, why is the Correctional Vendors Association is lobbying on this bill? Is it trying to leverage influence on government into more corporate profits at the expense of those whose lives are irreparably damaged due to unjust and excessive imprisonment and the taxpayers whose dollars are funneled into their pockets? No answer seems to be forthcoming.

You as a juror should be aware that not only can your Not Guilty vote veto bad laws, but it can also prevent this unconscionable enslavement of peaceful people for corporate profit. Jury nullification in cases where the the law is unjust or unjustly applied, or when the punishment is unjust in comparison to the offense, is one tool we have to push back against this kind of ill-gotten corporate welfare collected off the backs of harmless people.

Remember that even a single conviction on just one of many charges—even a seemingly minor one—can trigger excessively harsh penalties due to mandatory minimum sentencing schemes, three strikes laws, 10-20-life rules, sentence enhancements for acquitted conduct, and so on. And harsh penalties mean a ready supply of forced labor who are often paid less than 50 cents and hour for work that would command several dollars an hour in the free market.

Inside the courtroom, of course, we will often be misinstructed by judges that we “must” convict if the prosecution proves its case beyond a reasonable doubt. But this is simply not true. Judges cannot require jurors to deliver a Guilty verdict, and jurors cannot be punished for voting their consciences. Jury nullification is not only your right, but your duty if it is necessary to deliver a just verdict.