Prison For Profit: A Protest Gone Wrong

The Media circus surrounding those individuals who took part in the protest of conditions in the Allegheny County Jail has made the facts in this case difficult to sort out in the extreme.

Tuesday was one of those days when we go to court and have the opportunity to talk about much more than an individual client accused of a crime. We are in fact debating a far larger issue, one of Constitutional import, in which the accused have Constitutional rights.

The right to protest. The right to a fair trial. The right to be innocent until proven guilty.

While there were many people involved, eleven protesters face a variety of charges ranging from inciting a riot to assaulting a police officer. The evidence at this time is very unclear as to who might have done what. This is why the court proceeding has been postponed to a special session.

“Obviously, there is going to be a lot of evidence the Commonwealth will seek to introduce in this matter, we have rescheduled everything,” said attorney Patrick Nightingale, who represents Tyler Kobel. –KDKA-TV2

Hearing For Jail Protest Suspects Pushed Back Due To Attorney Scheduling Conflicts

Someone who has been accused of a crime does not have to prove their innocence. It is the burden of the Commonwealth to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

In this instance, we believe–due to the actions of a few individuals– the situation escalated to a point of chaos in which individual accounts could be inflated or confused, due to the emotional state of everyone involved.

Actions may have been perceived as aggressive when in fact they were defensive on an instinctive level. Individuals who were exercising their right to protest may have been misidentified regarding their involvement in any criminal activity that occurred.

In short, it’s going to take some time to sort all this out.

An unfortunate side-effect of all this confusion is that we have lost sight of the validity of the concerns the protesters were trying to bring to light: The sad state of affairs in a for-profit prison system that treats people as numbers to be added up by corporate accountants, with little regard for justice.

Caging people for non-violent crimes often creates far more hardship than actual justice for not just those incarcerated, but for their families as well.


Items like clean underwear, socks, etc., must now be purchased from a prison store. Even phone calls must be paid for by prisoners. 

Where once a family could bring these items to an incarcerated individual from home, families must now deposit money in prisoner accounts to purchase those items, adding an additional financial burden that has nothing to do with justice, and everything to do with the bottom line of their corporate overseers. Collect calls are a thing of the past.

And those prisoner accounts earn interest for the corporations, adding yet another layer of profit motive that has nothing to do with justice.

And what does all this mean for those who have no money to deposit? No clean underwear because their family doesn’t have the money to buy more, even though they could bring them from home?

A prison system based on profitability needs customers, which has very little to do with a fair dispensation of justice.

It’s time we as a society decide whether we are trying rehabilitate non-violent incarcerated people for re-entry into society, or simply cage them like animals so politicians can use them to prove they are tough on crime, and turn a profit to boot.




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