CCA, incapable of actually defending its morally reprehensible and laughably inefficient business model, meekly rejected the ACLU’s offer to debate in a public forum. I guess they find it difficult to justify abusing and neglecting human beings while reaping hundreds of millions of dollars in profit every year, and having spent millions more lobbying for an ever-expanding prison industrial complex while crime rates continue to fall.
ALEC, one of the banes of my existence, has been in the news a lot recently, as people are starting to realize that they’re behind every conservative conspiracy to screw over some segment of the population. As I’ve reported on before, the industry has helped to write and push laws that have dramatically increased our country’s prison population and funneled taxpayer dollars to private prison companies. The group is also behind a lot of the anti-reproductive rights legislation sweeping the country, the anti-union measures that passed in places like Wisconsin, Maine, and Ohio, voter suppression measures like anti-fraud legislation (which was a solution in search of a problem), and the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida that’s one of the focuses of the Trayvon Martin case. So basically, ALEC is the manifestation (and source) of the anti-democratic forces directing conservative ideology.
Folks, this is only a small taste of what a truly free market would be capable of. As groups like ALEC erode the foundation of civility and equity on which our country has thrived, by promoting privatization of public assets and destroying the democratic party’s voting base, we, the common people, lose. Thankfully there are still reporters with some cojones who tackle these important issues, but they seem to be getting fewer and farther between. ALEC is an absolute menace to the 99% of people who don’t stand to benefit from an even greater concentration of political power and wealth.
Just wanted to give a quick update on the newest craze sweeping the private prison industry, CCA’s diabolical scheme to connive state governments into selling prisons to the company and guaranteeing 90% occupancy of said prisons for decades to come. Basically, they’re looking to ensure the US remains the world’s embarrassing outlier in its unnecessarily high rate of incarceration. The proposal has been quickly and loudly criticized by dozens of groups, including advocacy groups and a coalition of religious organizations.
Now some of you might think that title is a bit of exaggeration; hyperbole, even. But I assure you, it’s not. See, CCA recently sent a letter to the governors of 48 states, offering to purchase prisons currently operated by state or local governments and operate the facilities. That in theory may not sound so terrible, if you ignore all the issues that plague the private prison industry and its consistent failure to deliver on its promises of cost-savings. But the letter, written by Harley Lappin, former director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (who coincidentally wrote a pretty scathing report of private prisons in that role), doesn’t just offer an influx of cash in the short-term for budget-crunched state officials. Its true intention is much more sinister.
In order to get CCA to purchase a prison, a state or government entity that contracts with them will have to agree to maintain 90% occupancy at the prison, for a contract term of no less than 20 years. What that means is that states who agree to sell a prison to CCA would commit a significant amount of fiscal resources to the company for the next two decades. Governments would also be required to either redistribute prisoners from government prisons if the population declines (which is really important, considering state prison populations have declined for 2 straight years), or pay CCA for empty beds. So what this letter really amounts to is offering a binding, generation-spanning commitment for governments to continue to financially support an industry that an increasing body of research shows doesn’t save money and performs less efficiently than the public sector. Further, it would continue our nation’s over-reliance on incarceration as it would dissuade state legislators and officials from seeking meaningful criminal justice reform, by removing a primary incentive to reduce our absurdly overblown prison population.
I apologize for being so late on this; there are actually a few stories I’m behind on and I’ll try to catch up as much as possible.
A report was just released by the American Friends Service Committee in Arizona that found private prisons actually cost the state more to operate than their government-run counterparts. In just three years (2008-2010), the state spent $10 million more on private prison beds than it would have cost them to just operate the prisons itself. The state for some reason loves private prisons, having previously tried to privatize its entire correctional system. The state was also the first place that an iteration of the “Breathing While Brown” law (that ALEC-writtenhandout to private prison companies) was introduced It is currently seeking 2,000 additional private prison beds, which would cost $6 million more than beds the government could operate. And this comes at a time when the state’s prison population is actually decreasing. It is also looking to outsource medical and mental health care to private, for-profit providers, for as many as 34,000 prisoners; that segment of the private prison industry suffers from all the problems inherent to the profit-driven world of incarceration.
The report was conducted because the state has consistently failed to conduct analyses of private prisons, even though there is a state law mandating that it do so. After years of ignoring calls to produce such a report, the state finally finished one in January of this year, which, surprise surprise, found private prisons to be more expensive.
So you would think with all this information; that private prisons cost considerably more to taxpayers, that they consistently fail to operate prisons safely and securely, that the state’s political system would bring the hammer down and start to hold private prison operators more accountable for the millions in taxpayer dollars they benefit from, if not abolish the industry altogether. But, this is Arizona. The state legislature released a budget bill that still provides funding for private prisons, and actually eliminates the requirement for cost-comparison studies of public vs. private prisons that brought about the first report (by the state). Talk about burying your head in the sand.
Just a quick link here. Pennsylvania is one of many states that has seen an explosion in its prison population, and the prison budget, over the past few decades, largely as a result of the government’s push to become “tough on crime.” The wave of legislation that has dramatically increased our prison population to the point where it is grotesquely out of accord with anything resembling common sense, or anything seen anywhere else in the world, was actually largely the product of the private prison industry’s work through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to draft and promote 3-strikes laws, mandatory minimums, and “truth-in-sentencing” legislation. But that’s a different story altogether. Suffice it to say, they spent decades passing tougher criminal statutes, and are now planning to reap the financial rewards of locking up millions of people as they try to encourage states to give them their prisoners. Thankfully, Pennsylvania is standing tall against the onslaught of privatization; Governor Corbett proposed a budget that won’t increase spending for the state DOC, and a DOC spokeswoman recently said the state was not considering privatizing part of the prison system. Bravo, Keystone State!
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