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Can you imagine how appalled you would be if your significant other said they were taking your credit card and going on a frivolous spending spree during COVID-19 when funds are vital? But that is exactly what prisons are doing to taxpayers — paying $80 billion in taxpayer money, half of it to prison profiteering enterprises. This is still going on during the worst pandemic in a century.

Now the pandemic has gotten into severely overcrowded prisons. We have overcrowded prisons not because there are a lot of bad people in America, but because we have outdated and broken sentencing guidelines, as well as prosecutors that exploit these guidelines as if they’re playing video games, running up high scores using actual human lives.

When judges don’t care about the human lives affected by the excessively harsh sentencing that puts people in prison for decades, it not only destroys lives, but it also costs our country vital funds during the coronavirus pandemic.

Inmates who would have had a light sentence in state courts face harsher sentences in the federal system, and therefore must age for decades in federal prisons while struggling taxpayers foot the bill. The federal prison population grew 500 percent from 1980 to 2007. Now, in the midst of COVID-19, senior prisoners are sitting ducks in a grossly overcrowded and disease-ridden prison system. A judge in April said the Minnesota state prison system was not shielding inmates from the virus.

Prisons are not designed to protect inmates from disease and sickness. They are designed to generate as much taxpayer money as possible. Each inmate costs the federal government more than $102 a day (state governments are close behind) — money that the prison system views as income, almost like a landlord collecting rent. By overpopulating, prisons can rake in millions of dollars a month in taxpayer fees. Prisons also make money off inmates’ families, who send their loved ones money to spend on telephone calls and other services. These services come at an exorbitant cost, while the companies providing the service pay the prisons a fee — like a commission check or, more accurately, a kickback — of millions of dollars each year.

Store items and hobby craft items also charge inmates willing to pay 30 percent mark-ups. Families will spend money on the visiting room vending machines which are stocked and priced by the prison, netting thousands of dollars each weekend.

Prisons do not care about protecting inmates from disease. Prisons are money-generating Ponzi schemes designed to use people as human commodities for profit and cheap labor, and they rely on harsh sentencing to do this, hoping taxpayers stay ignorant about how they have to pay for it all.

This whistleblower report is a cry to expose prisons’ true agenda, as well as to shine a light on the corruption of the federal courts that fuel the problem.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Global Forum Online has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

David Azreal is the pen name for a writer whose pieces are submitted through the American Prison Writing Archive, a partner of the Global Forum Online. David is incarcerated in Minnesota.