PRIVATE PRISONS ARE BACK...
Outlawed at the beginning of the 20th Century, private corporations are once again owning and operating prisons for profit. A controversial issue which dates back to the days that followed the Emancipation Proclamation, CORRECTIONS examines its re-appearance today amidst globalization and the most awesome growth of prisons in all of modern history, painting a complex portrait of what many are calling the "prison industrial complex."
In the mid-1980's, fifteen years of massive and unprecedented growth within the US prison system hit a snag -- it ran out of money.
When the state wants to build a new prison, it traditionally asks the voters to approve the cost through a bond issue. But this time, voters throughout the country began to say no.
So many turned to private investment, to venture capital, both to fund new prison projects and to run the prisons themselves for costs around $30 to $60 per bed, per day. This began what we know today as the for-profit, PRIVATE PRISON INDUSTRY.
In the late 1960's, the US began to expand the powers of law enforcement agencies around the country, generating by the 1970's an unprecedented reliance on incarceration to treat its social, political, economic and mental health problems.
By calling new acts crimes, and by increasing the severity of sentencing for other acts, US citizens witnessed a "prison boom." Soon, prison overcrowding surpassed prison construction budgets, and politicians that had promised to build new prisons could no longer build them.
So in 1984, a number of Tennessee investors with close friends in the legislature recognized a business opportunity and formed CORRECTIONS CORPORATION OF AMERICA (CCA). Their plan was to use venture capital to build a new prison and -- like a hotel -- lease their beds to the state in a profit-making endeavor.
Today, nearly ten percent of US prisons and jails (meaning 200,000 prisoners) have been privatized, the three largest firms being CCA, WACKENHUT CORRECTIONS CORPORATION and CORNELL CORRECTIONS, INC. The federal government also contracts with them to house a growing number of undocumented immigrants and resident aliens, while some of the companies have facilities in countries outside the USA.
Correctional Corporations have amassed large political influence through government ties, lobbying power and campaign contributions, while attempting to convert the discourse of justice into the language of the marketplace. In this way, they accuse government agencies as having a monopoly on corrections, espouse the need to downsize and cut through red tape. They claim that they can run prisons more efficiently and cheaper, doing a better job and saving the taxpayers money.
At the same time, prison privatization has met severe criticism. From human rights activists to criminologists, economists, religious and community leaders and even correctional officers' unions, privatization has been accused of corruption, corrosive incentives, and a resemblance to a historically racist practice of the old confederate U.S. South: CONVICT LEASING.
Some claim that private prisons really don't save money, but like any for-profit business, attempt to maximize their own profit. This results in a reduction of essential services within the prison -- from medical care, food and clothing to staff costs and security -- at the endangerment of the public, the inmates and the staff.
Other critiques are concerned with the power and influence of for-profit prisons. At a time when much of public discourse is questioning the war-on-crime and the war-on-drugs being fought as wars, critics claim that the incentive of profit skews public discourse away from reasoned debate about viable solutions to social problems.
And finally, grasping the demographic make-up of today's prisons in the US and the history that's produced this make-up (roughly 50% African-American, 35% Latino and 15% White), the privatization of prisons threatens to re-institute a link between race and commerce that has not been seen since the 1800's.
There are also different ways that those who make the laws profit from the laws they make through prison privatization.
The most direct are those who own stock in private prisons, such as former Tennessee Governor and his wife, Lamar and Honey Alexander, who owned stock in the early Corrections Corporation of America. There are also those officials who are on the actual payroll of these corporations, such as Manny Aragon, the New Mexico legislator who Wackenhut hired as a lobbyist for New Mexico when they were trying to begin privatization in that state.
A third way comes from campaign contributions and political action committee moneys, through which the corporations financially reward those officials that allow private prisons in their states or jurisdictions, or who pass laws that will continue prison expansion -- public or private -- thus expanding the resource base of the privatization industry. (These are often the same law makers who are handsomely rewarded by public sector groups such as correctional officers' unions and other law enforcement groups, who also profit from criminalization and mass imprisonment).
Less directly, the privatization of prisons contributes to and buoys the overall "culture" of law enforcement and criminal justice, one that levels our common sense understanding of the causes of our social problems and puts as their solution responses of violence, force and containment. By expanding the criminal justice system beyond the grasp of elected officials and civil servants, private prisons grow this culture in ways that are both ideological and practice-related.
The private sector also serves as a "career alternative" for many, hiring bureaucrats and officials from the public sector who are either looking for a raise and stock options, or are looking to come out of retirement. These include people from the FBI, CIA, various state and federal departments of corrections, sheriffs, and even former attorney generals.
And most importantly, public officials profit from prison privatization as it allows them to act with less accountability to the public, allowing prisons to be built without passing prison bonds for the public to vote on, and not having to worry how one will budget their inflammatory and expensive tough-on-crime rhetoric.
|Louisiana State Secretary of Corrections, Richard Stalder, cuts the ribbon to kick off the burgeoning 1999 American Correctional Association Trade Show.|
Although the predominant myths about PRIVATIZATION (whether of prisons or anything else) claim that privatization means tax savings for the public, it actually costs us more. Even though on paper a private agency or corporation may present a lower figure to do the same job, once that money has been taken out of the public's hands, it no longer remains ours.
In the public sector, tax money tends to make more of itself, meaning that each public dollar paid through one social service will spend itself four to eight times more elsewhere within the public sector. Once public money goes into private hands however, that money stays there and is gone for good. This is especially true if we consider that privatization corporations are usually given handsome tax breaks and "incentives," in the form of what some people call "corporate welfare," which means we are even less likely to see that money again.
And finally, if we remember that the people who privatize are generally wealthy, this reminds us of an old story where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer -- where the hard earned tax money from each of us is funneled into the hands of the wealthy few for their own personal gain. While we each like to think we don't live in a society like that, today this is justified to us through the myth that "free markets" are the same thing as democracy; that if everything is privatized and ruled by the law of the dollar then democracy will be ensured.
Add this to the fact that prisons do not make us safer and are by far the most expensive way of dealing with what we call "crime," we suffer other costs as well. Social costs of broken families and communities -- of both victims and perpetrators; hidden financial costs like paying for the foster care of prisoners' children; what we will only pay again when a prisoner re-emerges more desperate, addicted, uneducated and disenfranchised than they went in; the vengeance our society seeks through prisons and punishment will cost us twice the price of ensuring true equality, opportunity and social health at the roots of our society.
The PRIVATIZATION OF PRISONS is but one case in which a few people exploit our society's larger problems for their own gain, at a cost we all bare and get little in return.
GO TO: http://www.correctionsproject.com
NEW 2012 Study of Privatizing US
Prisons from the US Dept Of Justice BJA Study on Private Prisons
Blackness now in the US is defined by degrees of criminality.Sister Michelle Alexander has captured this reality in her new book: The New Jim Crow.
We present an extensive interview of her discussing the importance of her research to our Black Liberation Struggle.
March 27, 2011 By Dick Price
"More African American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began," Michelle Alexander told a standing room only house at the Pasadena Main Library this past Wednesday, the first of many jarring points she made in a riveting presentation.
Alexander, currently a law professor at Ohio State, had been brought in to discuss her year-old bestseller, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
More Black Men Now in Prison System than Were Enslaved.
Interest ran so high beforehand that the organizers had to move the event to a location that could accommodate the eager attendees. That evening, more than 200 people braved the pouring rain and inevitable traffic jams to crowd into the library's main room, with dozens more shuffled into an overflow room, and even more latecomers turned away altogether. Alexander and her topic had struck a nerve.
Growing crime rates over the past 30 years don't explain the skyrocketing numbers of black — and increasingly brown — men caught in America's prison system, according to Alexander, who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun after attending Stanford Law. "In fact, crime rates have fluctuated over the years and are now at historical lows."
"Most of that increase is due to the War on Drugs, a war waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color," she said, even though studies have shown that whites use and sell illegal drugs at rates equal to or above blacks. In some black inner-city communities, four of five black youth can expect to be caught up in the criminal justice system during their lifetimes.
As a consequence, a great many black men are disenfranchised, said Alexander — prevented because of their felony convictions from voting and from living in public housing, discriminated in hiring, excluded from juries, and denied educational opportunities.
"What do we expect them to do?" she asked, who researched her ground-breaking book while serving as Director of the Racial Justice Project at the ACLU of Northern California. "Well, seventy percent return to prison within two years, that's what they do."
Organized by the Pasadena Public Library and the Flintridge Center, with a dozen or more cosponsors, including the ACLU Pasadena/Foothills Chapter and Neighborhood Church, and the LA Progressive as the sole media sponsor, the event drew a crowd of the converted, frankly — more than two-thirds from Pasadena's well-established black community and others drawn from activists circles. Although Alexander is a polished speaker on a deeply researched topic, little she said stunned the crowd, which, after all, was the choir. So the question is what to do about this glaring injustice.
Michelle Alexander Michelle 300x215 More Black Men Now in Prison System than Were Enslaved ACLU Pasadena/Foothills President Michelle White, Author Michelle Alexander, LA Progressive Publisher Sharon Kyle, and ACLU Pasadena Past President Kris Ockershauser.
Married to a federal prosecutor, Alexander briefly touched on the differing opinion in the Alexander household. "You can imagine the arguments we have," Alexander said in relating discussions she has with her husband. "He thinks there are changes we can make within the system," she said, agreeing that there are good people working on the issues and that improvements can be made. "But I think there has to be a revolution of some kind."
However change is to come, a big impediment will be the massive prison-industrial system.
"If we were to return prison populations to 1970 levels, before the War on Drugs began," she said. "More than a million people working in the system would see their jobs disappear."
So it's like America's current war addiction. We have built a massive war machine — one bigger than all the other countries in the world combined — with millions of well-paid defense industry and billions of dollars at stake. With a hammer that big, every foreign policy issue looks like a nail — another bomb to drop, another country to invade, another massive weapons development project to build.
Similarly, with such a well-entrenched prison-industrial complex in place — also with a million jobs and billions of dollars at stake — every criminal justice issue also looks like a nail — another prison sentence to pass down, another third strike to enforce, another prison to build in some job-starved small town, another chance at a better life to deny.
Alexander, who drew her early inspiration from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., devotes the last part of "The New Jim Crow" to steps people can take to combat this gross injustice. In particular, she recommended supporting the Drug Policy Alliance.
This week we ran a piece written by Dick Price entitled, “More Black Men Now in Prison System Than Were Enslaved“. Tens of thousands read it. Many left comments. The popularity of his article and the comments posted has lead to this follow-up article.
The article Dick wrote was a recap of a talk given by Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow (see image to the left). Alexander, a civil rights attorney turned scholar, recently made an appearance in Southern California. She delivered an information packed presentation at the Pasadena Library, to a standing-room-only crowd.
Dick wrote a review of her talk. In this article I focus on a specific topic addressed in her book — what is driving the growth in the prison population and prison-based gerrymandering.
Like the military-industrial complex, the prison-industrial complex has had far-reaching negative consequences many of which remain unaddressed or ignored by the larger society but they take their toll on the whole of society never-the-less.
The practice of gerrymandering is one of the costs to our democracy. This practice renders a small minority of Americans with more voting power than others. But the mass incarceration phenomenon is also costing the U.S. taxpayer more than $60 billion per year for federal, state and local prison systems (source The Sentencing Project).
Speaking of the unprecedented growth of the prison population in a recent ABC News article, Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project had this to say:
“The unrivaled growth of the United States’ incarcerated population over 30 years casts a great burden on this nation. The country’s $60 billion prison budget results in less money for education, health care and child services. Communities need the resources to prevent crime by investing in youth and families.”
Many of the people who read Dick’s article questioned whether the natural growth in the U.S. population could explain the growth of the prison population. The Justice Department released a report that makes it clear that the rate of growth in the prison population far exceeds the rate of growth in the U.S. population. You can also read a quick article on this reported by ABC News.
Legal scholar and author Michelle Alexander spent years researching this unprecedented growth. She did not come to this research with preconceived notions. In fact, she makes it clear that before she embarked upon this investigation, she was of the mindset that radical activists were making more of this “prison-industrial complex” than they should. Then she got a fellowship that allowed her the free time needed to delve into the numbers. She slowly but surely drew new conclusions.
The reason her “awakening” is one of the most poignant aspects of this story is because it magnifies the depth and breath of the blindness that she talks about in her book. Michelle Alexander is a black woman. She was a civil rights attorney. She worked for the ACLU and even she was blind to the magnitude of this problem and its racial component until she took a look at the numbers.
It should not be surprising that the vast majority of Americans who have not taken a look at the numbers are clueless about the toll this is taking on all of us.
Matt Pillischer is producing a documentary entitled,”Broken on All Sides”, that takes a hard look at what is driving this unprecedented growth in our prisons.
While it seems almost impossible to get any traction on this issue, lack of knowledge continues to be a contributing factor that helps to support the phenomenal prison growth especially as it relates to black and now brown male inmates. Some think that black and browns are growing demographics in the prison population because they commit more crime. This assertion has been debunked. Evidence suggests that the war on drugs has a very specific demographic that is targeted.
ABC News ran a report in response to the Justice Department’s announcement that the United States had 2.3 million inmates in custody. Speaking of the Justice Department report, ABC News said:
The report provides a breakdown, noting “of the 2.3 million inmates in custody, 2.1 million were men and 208,300 were women. Black males represented the largest percentage (35.4 percent) of inmates held in custody, followed by white males (32.9 percent) and Hispanic males (17.9 percent).”
The United States leads the industrialized world in incarceration. In fact, the U.S. rate of incarceration (762 per 100,000) is five to eight times that of other highly developed countries, according to The Sentencing Project, a criminal justice think tank.
Some of the key factors for the record imprisonment rate include:
Race: Black males make up 35.4 percent of the jail and prison population — even though they make up less than 10 percent of the overall U.S population. Four percent of U.S. black males were in jail or prison last year, compared to 1.7 percent of Hispanic males and .7 percent of white males. In other words, black males were locked up at almost six times the rate of their white counterparts.
Immigration: Is it an emerging crime trend or is this the result of more local police and federal targeting of illegal immigrants? Non-U.S. citizens accounted for nearly 8 percent of the jail population at midyear 2007, the new Justice Department report noted. “From mid-year 2000 through midyear 2007, Hispanic men (120,000) represented the largest increase to the custody population,” it said.
In an essay published two years ago in Time magazine, the writers of The Wire made the argument that they believe the war on drugs has devolved into a war on the underclass, that in places like West and East Baltimore, where the drug economy is now the only factory still hiring and where the educational system is so crippled that the vast majority of children are trained only for the corners, a legal campaign to imprison our most vulnerable and damaged citizens is little more than amoral.
The Sentencing Project has reported that more than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. For Black males in their twenties, 1 in every 8 is in prison or jail on any given day. These trends have been intensified by the disproportionate impact of the “war on drugs,” in which three-fourths of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color. And now, with prison populations bursting at the seams, there is a movement underway to shift to privatization. I’ll be writing more on this in future articles. But please move on to the next page of this article to find out more about the collateral consequences of our current sentencing policies and how it impacts all Americans.