Transcript: Thom Hartmann: The Big Picture: Should CEOs join illegal immigrants in the tent city prison? 5 July '11

Our nation is addicted to throwing people in prison. We have the highest incarceration rate in the developed world - which if you ask me is pretty ironic as a distinction for the “land of the free.”

And since we have an insatiable thirst for locking people up - we run into a little problem when it comes to having enough actual prisons to put people in.

Which brings us to Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s “tent city” prison in Arizona. An outdoor jail incarcerating 1,400 non-violent prisoners.

As you can imagine - summers get pretty hot in Arizona - and on Saturday - the temperature in Arpaio’s tent-city prison shot up to an inhumane 145-degrees - about ten degrees shy of being hot enough to cook an egg on a bench outside.

So what happens to Arpaio’s prisoners when the temperatures spike? Isn’t there a back-up facility people can be housed in where they can avoid heat stroke. or go to for a few minutes every hour to cool down?

Nope. To beat the heat - prisoners were given a 6-ounce cup of ice and told, get over it.

Arpaio himself was questioned about the conditions at his prison - to which he responded:

What am I going to do, take them out of jail because it's too hot?

But inhumane conditions aren’t exclusive to Arizona - they’re just becoming the norm in a nation that’s strongly influenced by a private prison lobby that lobbies for longer and longer sentences for more and more minor crimes, because they make more money every time a new person is thrown in jail or kept there longer.

Just last month, for example - the United States Supreme Court ruled that the prison system in California was inhumane because of overcrowding. In his ruling - Conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy described prisoner's living quarters as "telephone-sized cages without toilets" - and wrote:

A prison that deprives prisoners of basic sustenance, including adequate medical care, is incompatible with the concept of human dignity and has no place in civilized society.

So where does a prison that forces inmates to sit in 145-degree heat fit into a "civilized society"?

Luckily - for Sheriff Joe - and the rest of the prison-hawks - I have a way to solve their inhumane prisons problem... let's throw some banksters and corporate CEOs in prison. Doing so, throw some of these CEOs, some of these banksters who brought down the world, to do so is going to "gentrify" the prisons.

Arpaio's tent city is filled with non-violent but by and large blue collar criminals - like people who got smoking pot or stealing a slurpee at 7-11.

Yet today - you can count on one hand the number of banksters who are doing time for their role in the stealing trillions of dollars from the middle-class during the financial meltdown.

And even if the hammer DOES fall on some of these banksters in the future - don't expect them to be doing time in Arpaio's tent-city prison oven - they're just not going to show up - in our, we really do have a two tier criminal justice system in the United States.

Rich people, by and large, either get away with their crimes or they go to friendly places, kind of McMansions, and poor people, by and large, go to pretty awful prisons that are getting more and more awful by the day as the private prison industry is out there building prisons and paying guards lousy and trying to move as many people through as possible.

But I can promise you - the second we DO start taking a hard-line on corporate crime - especially against CEOs who hire those illegal immigrants that give Sheriff Joe his purpose in life - you will suddenly see prison conditions miraculously improve.

Just as run-down city blocks crippled by crime and poverty are gentrified with new high rise condos and high-class steakhouses - let's gentrify our prisons with corporate executives.

Then maybe we can get some air conditioning in Arpaio's tent city - and toilets for the inmates in California...after all - banksters need their amenities.

That's The Big Picture.

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