5. Prisons, and Profits

May-18-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: A reminder: here’s last month’s graphic of the number of people incarcerated in the US. When crime is dropping, why are more people in prison? Because it pays, just as the slave trade paid. And of course, it targets the same people. A tremendous evil and a brutal destruction of what might be achieved: the closing article from the Atlantic has an excellent infographic on the human and financial cost of this system.

Private Prison Corporations Are Modern Day Slave Traders  AlterNet

The nation’s largest private prison company, the Corrections Corporation of America, is on a buying spree. With a war chest of $250 million, the corporation, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, earlier this year sent letters to 48 states, offering to buy their prisons outright. To ensure their profitability, the corporation insists that it be guaranteed that the prisons be kept at least 90 percent full. Plus, the corporate jailers demand a 20-year management contract, on top of the profits they expect to extract by spending less money per prisoner.

…The attempted prison grab is also defensive in nature. If private companies can gain both ownership and management of enough prisons, they can set the prices without open-bid competition for prison services, creating a guaranteed cost-plus monopoly like that which exists between the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex. But, for a better analogy, we must go back to the American slave system, a thoroughly capitalist enterprise that reduced human beings to units of labor and sale… Investors are warned that profits would go down if the demand for prisoners declines. That is, if the world’s largest police state shrinks, so does the corporate bottom line. Dangers to profitability include “relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws.” The corporation spells it out: “any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.” 

At the Corrections Corporation of America, human freedom is a dirty word.

* Louisiana Is The World’s Prison Capital nola 

The state imprisons more of its people, per head, than any of its U.S. counterparts. First among Americans means first in the world. Louisiana’s incarceration rate is nearly triple Iran’s, seven times China’s and 10 times Germany’s. The hidden engine behind the state’s well-oiled prison machine is cold, hard cash. A majority of Louisiana inmates are housed in for-profit facilities, which must be supplied with a constant influx of human beings or a $182 million industry will go bankrupt.

Several homegrown private prison companies command a slice of the market. But in a uniquely Louisiana twist, most prison entrepreneurs are rural sheriffs, who hold tremendous sway in remote parishes like Madison, Avoyelles, East Carroll and Concordia. A good portion of Louisiana law enforcement is financed with dollars legally skimmed off the top of prison operations. If the inmate count dips, sheriffs bleed money. Their constituents lose jobs. The prison lobby ensures this does not happen by thwarting nearly every reform that could result in fewer people behind bars.

* One Year of Prison Costs More Than One Year at Princeton Atlantic Magazine

One year at Princeton University: $37,000. One year at a New Jersey state prison: $44,000. Prison and college “are the two most divergent paths one can take in life,” Joseph Staten, an info-graphic researcher with Public Administration, says. Whereas one is a positive experience that increases lifetime earning potential, the other is a near dead end, which is why Staten found it striking that the lion’s share of government funding goes toward incarceration…..

[T]his chart helps illustrate a large discrepancy in this country: America has the highest incarceration rate by population, but is only 6th in the world when it comes to college degrees. Our government’s spending reflects that fact accordingly.



3. Living in Lockuptown

Jan-27-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Slavery is alive and well in Lockuptown, the city of prisoners in the US, and now the second largest American city. Adam Gopnik’s stunning article from this week’s New Yorker looks at the number and way that millions are imprisoned, and at the CCA, the Corrections Corporation of America, the company that makes money from them. This is an unforgettable article. We follow this with a close examination of how the CCA shapes the law to create more prisoners, and end with Jane Jacobs, who presciently highlighted the precise moral problem with this.

* The Caging of America Adam Gopnik The New Yorker

For a great many poor people in America, particularly poor black men, prison is a destination that braids through an ordinary life, much as high school and college do for rich white ones. More than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives. Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system—in prison, on probation, or on parole—than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under “correctional supervision” in America—more than six million—than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height. That city of the confined and the controlled, Lockuptown, is now the second largest in the United States.

…..No more chilling document exists in recent American life than the 2005 annual report of the biggest of these firms, the Corrections Corporation of America. Here the company (which spends millions lobbying legislators) is obliged to caution its investors about the risk that somehow, somewhere, someone might turn off the spigot of convicted men:

Our growth is generally dependent upon our ability to obtain new contracts to develop and manage new correctional and detention facilities. . . . The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.

Brecht could hardly have imagined such a document: a capitalist enterprise that feeds on the misery of man trying as hard as it can to be sure that nothing is done to decrease that misery.

* Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law  NPR

Last year, two men showed up in Benson, Ariz., a small desert town 60 miles from the Mexico border, offering a deal.

Glenn Nichols, the Benson city manager, remembers the pitch….What he was selling was a prison for women and children who were illegal immigrants. “They talk [about] how positive this was going to be for the community,” Nichols said, “the amount of money that we would realize from each prisoner on a daily rate…They talked like they didn’t have any doubt they could fill it.” That’s because prison companies like this one had a plan — a new business model to lock up illegal immigrants. And the plan became Arizona’s immigration law….The law could send hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to prison in a way never done before. And it could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to private prison companies responsible for housing them.

* Jane Jacobs and the Problem of Monstrous Hybrids Forbes

Delegating a coercive government functions like operating a prison to a private company is dangerous because the prison company has divided loyalty. The people in charge of a prison ought to be completely devoted to serving the public and the rule of law. But a private company also has an obligation to generate profits for shareholders, which can lead them to cut corners in ways that damage the rights of others. In this case, the profit motive drove a prison company to lobby for laws that would swell the prison population, harming both immigrants and taxpayers.

Jacobs calls combinations of the two syndromes—and the institutions that operate on such hybrid moral systems—”monstrous hybrids.”







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