Commentary

Setting the prisoner free, part three

Bob Hulteen

As it turns out, quite a few people are passionate about the prison system in this country. Consistently, people believe that those who profess faith in Jesus Christ should be involved in both protecting society from criminals and ensuring the rehabilitation of the incarcerated.

Metro Lutheran reader Jonathan Partee, assistant director for media relations for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), suggested that the treatment of “a stranger in a strange land” might fit the series on setting free the captive. Knowing a bit, but not a lot, about the treatment of detainees, I decided to do some research.

A familiar player

As it turns out, I recognized some of the players. It turns out that Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), one of the major players in the privatization of prisons (and the one that requires a guarantee that 90 percent of the beds will be filled before accepting a contract to manage a public prison), also is very involved in detention of undocumented individuals.

CCA has an agreement in some localities with police and sheriff departments, and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) contracts with CCA as well. This for-profit business is paid about $90 per day for each person detained on account of his or her immigration status.

Please don’t be shocked: CCA also lobbies the federal government to implement more stringent enforcement of policies that ensure that the detention cells will be filled. Full cells mean full wallets for CCA.

Regardless one’s opinion on the immigration debate, no one — and certainly no person of faith — should rest easy knowing that people are being detained for profit.

Proclaiming release to the captive

UCC pastor John Guttermann is running a program called Conversations with Friends with funding support from LIRS. Conversations with Friends provides detainees with a twice per month opportunity to sit and visit with someone in the jail. On the second and fourth Sundays of each month from 7:00-8:00 p.m., visitors who have received two training sessions and an orientation of the holding facility meet with inmates, usually 1-3 per visitor.

Guttermann is also the volunteer liaison to faith communities for the Advocates for Human Rights. As such he also coordinates congregations that hold prayer vigils outside the Ramsey County Detention Center. This center, and at least some of the others in Minnesota, operates with an intergovernmental agreement with ICE and is paid to jail undocumented immigrants. Guttermann has been told that the centers were lobbied to take detainees because these payments could underwrite the cost of the center without increasing taxes for local citizens. “So now the profit motive is driving nonprofit government agencies as well,” Guttermann offered.

For more information about the LIRS-sponsored Conversations with Friends program or the Faith Action vigils, email Rev. Guttermann at intpasj@mac.com or call him at 651/485-3104.

Ministering to a stranger in a strange land might just change your life.

See also “part one” and “part two.”

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