Kevin Pranis is a criminal-justice policy analyst and anti-prison activist who holds a bachelor’s degree in Latin American Studies and a master’s degree in Social Sciences, both from the University of Chicago. After completing his schooling in 1994, Pranis served as the project director of Amigos de las Americas, an organization that uses “immersion in cross-cultural experiences” to “buil[d] young leaders” who aspire to become “life-long catalyst[s] for social change.”
Pranis next took a job as a case worker for the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, an organization through which attorneys, social workers, paralegals, investigators, and interns are assigned to represent inner-city New Yorkers—mostly nonwhites—who are caught up in the criminal-justice system.
In 1996 Pranis co-founded the New York-based Prison Moratorium Project (PMP) for the express purpose of promoting a freeze on the construction of prisons—particularly private-sector, for-profit prisons—and advocating increased expenditures on public education, social welfare programs, and tuition assistance/scholarships for low-income college students. “New York State is diverting millions of dollars from colleges and universities to pay for prisons we can’t afford,” he said in 2000. Throughout his tenure as PMP’s board chairman from 1996-2002, Pranis set the ideological tone for the organization’s persistent condemnation of the American “prison-industrial complex” and its allegedly racist “devastation of entire communities”—of which one hallmark was the “overrepresentation of Blacks and Latinos within the system.”
In the 1990s Pranis was an organizer with the Young Democratic Socialists, the Youth Section of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).
In 1999 Pranis received funding from George Soros’s Open Society Institute (OSI) to “develop and implement a model program to train 30-40 high school, college, and graduate students as advocates for criminal justice reform.” From 2000-03, Pranis was one of OSI’s Soros Justice Fellows, who, according to Ann Beeson, the Institute’s then-director of U.S. programs, were “developing innovative solutions to expose the deep flaws in the current system” that “too often perpetuates inequality.”
In 2003 Pranis and criminal-justice policy analyst Judith Greene co-founded Justice Strategies, a Tides Center project designed to “alter the laws, policies and practices that drive mass incarceration and racial disparity in the U.S. criminal justice and immigration systems.” Specifically, Justice Strategies “tracks the growth in the number of immigrants behinds bars”; “documents the impact of changing law enforcement and sentencing practices on immigrant communities”; “examines the impact of [prison] privatization at the state and national level”; “documents the industry’s role in promoting rapid prison population growth”; analyzes “the impact of current [law-enforcement] policies on communities of color”; and “advocates to craft reforms designed to safely lower levels of racial disparity in imprisonment.” Pranis served for at least six years as a policy analyst with Justice Strategies.
In April 2004 Pranis participated in a series of demonstrations where cafeteria workers at SUNY Binghamton voiced their desire to join the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) union, which soon thereafter merged with the Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees (UNITE) to form UNITE HERE!.
In 2005 Pranis wrote Cost-Saving or Cost-Shifting: The Fiscal Impact of Prison Privatization in Arizona, a 17-page report condemning proposals to expand Arizona’s private prison system. In its conclusion, the report says: “Arizona’s corrections budget has doubled over the last fifteen years, placing a tremendous burden on taxpayers and on the families of state university students…. Proponents argue that privatization is the answer to the state’s prison woes because private companies can operate prisons at lower cost and finance new prisons the state cannot afford.
Unfortunately, our examination found that evidence to back up these claims is virtually nonexistent.” Pranis’s report was published collaboratively by the Private Corrections Institute, the American Friends Service Committee of Tucson, and the Arizona Leadership Institute.
In 2006-07, Pranis worked for the Justice Policy Institute, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to “reducing the use of incarceration” to the point where it becomes “only … a last resort” in dealing with lawbreakers.
From 2007-10, Pranis was a research director for the union federation Change To Win.
Since January 2014, Pranis has been the marketing manager of the Minnesota and North Dakota chapters of the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), which promotes a host of leftist agendas such as: “family-supporting wages” for all workers; “comprehensive immigration reform” that provides a “path to citizenship” for illegal aliens residing in the United States; and campaigns against “voter suppression efforts” such as “stricter voter registration laws, registered voter purges, [and] expanded voter ID laws.”
Further Reading: “Kevin Pranis” (JusticeStrategies.org, KeyWiki.org, Prison Profiteers – p. 292; UnionFacts.com, LinkedIn.com); Cost-Saving or Cost-Shifting: The Fiscal Impact of Prison Privatization in Arizona (by Kevin Pranis, 2005).