Kalena Thomhave

Kalena Thomhave is a writing fellow at The American Prospect.

Recent Articles

Banning Private Prisons—and Prisoner Exploitation

Elizabeth Warren’s newest plan goes beyond limiting the private role in mass incarceration, and seeks to prevent corporate abuse of vulnerable inmates.

Ted S. Warren/AP Photo
Last Friday, Senator Elizabeth Warren vowed as president to terminate all federal private prison contracts, and to pressure local and state governments to do the same. “The government has a basic responsibility to keep the people in its care safe—not to use their punishment as an opportunity for profit,” she wrote in a Medium post . Warren’s plan also promises to regulate private companies’ services in prisons and eliminate service fees for prisoners using basic services like phone calls, bank transfers, and health care. This goes beyond what has become an increasingly common call for abolishing private prison management, and attacks the routine exploitation of disproportionately poor inmates and their families. Senator Bernie Sanders introduced the Justice Is Not for Sale Act back in 2015. In a plan not too divergent from Warren’s, the Sanders bill would have banned private prisons and increased oversight of private services operating in prisons...

Confronting Politicians with the Reality of Poverty

The Poor People’s Campaign gathered this week in Washington, demanding change from both presidential candidates and members of Congress.

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images
In the gym on the campus of Washington, D.C.’s Trinity Washington University, with bleachers pushed to the side to make room for more than 1,000 attendees, a banner hung from the balcony reading, “Fight poverty, not the poor.” Just outside, more banners and posters, declaring the immorality of poverty, papered the walls of the lobby. This was the setting for the three-day Moral Action Congress of the Poor People’s Campaign, which opened Monday with nine Democratic presidential candidates discussing their plans to address economic inequality, and ended Wednesday as a handful of leaders from the Campaign addressed the House Budget Committee in a hearing on poverty in the United States. Also on Monday, the Campaign released a “moral budget,” published in partnership with the Institute for Policy Studies, which spells out how the federal government would pay for their demands, which include a higher minimum wage and investments in social welfare...

Benefits on the Line

The Trump administration has proposed to adjust how we measure poverty, in an ill-disguised attempt to cut benefit levels.

This article appears in the Summer 2019 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . Detroit resident Walter Travier-EL just got out of prison after serving 48 years. He wants a job, but the state is having issues helping him secure a state ID and a new Social Security card—his old one is long lost. For now, Travier-EL survives on Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, commonly called food stamps), and Medicare. But it’s not enough. Travier-EL wants a chance to improve himself: some savings to put away for a house one day, or some money to help him secure a car, to get to the jobs he’s been offered but so far can’t accept. At the very least, he wants independence. “I was looking for the standard of living, so I can be a taxpayer and not [reliant] on the state,” he tells me. “If you’re going to give me a chance, give me the standard of living.” Those living on the edge...

Check a Box for Free Health Care

Maryland will enroll people in health coverage, which could be free for many, via state tax returns.

The Trump administration has spent the last two and a half years doggedly attacking the Affordable Care Act (ACA). From limiting advertising and outreach, shortening enrollment periods, and killing the individual mandate at the federal level, to approving state plans to eliminate health coverage for many Medicaid recipients, the administration has undermined and weakened the law even as a Republican-majority Congress failed to completely strike down the ACA. The national uninsured rate rose in the fourth quarter of 2018, according to Gallup data , from a historic low of 10.9 percent in 2016 to 13.7 percent. That increase represents an additional seven million adults left uninsured. In response to these attacks, lawmakers in Maryland recently passed legislation that will make it easier for state residents to enroll in health care. The new program will not only widen the insurance pool and keep premiums down, but it is also a groundbreaking new way to ensure that nearly everyone who is...

American Call Center Workers Rally for Their Filipino Counterparts

While American call center jobs are offshored to the labor-hostile Philippines, some American call center workers are publicly supporting Filipino workers’ right to organize.

Under Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, labor unions in the Philippines have experienced arrests and brutal backlash for speaking out against the repression of labor activists as well as poor working conditions. Home to more call center workers than any other nation, the Philippines has for years subjected these workers to low pay and frequent misuse of contract labor. Just last year, the International Trade Union Confederation listed the Philippines as one of the ten worst countries in the world for working people, writing that “in a context of extreme state violence and suppression of civil liberties, workers and trade unionists in the Philippines faced threats and intimidation.” On the southern island of Mindanao, the Duterte regime has extended martial law until at least the end of the year, putting thousands of people at risk of repression. As call center workers in the U.S. continue to face the very real threat of further offshoring, one might assume they would be...