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Update on CCA’s Diabolical Scheme

11:55 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

Update on CCA’s Diabolical Scheme

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.

Beyond the mere idiocy of guaranteeing a private prison company income despite prison population shifts for the next twenty years, people are starting to question the source of the proposal; former director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Harley Lappin.  Shortly after leaving his post in the federal government, Mr. Lappin took his highly lucrative job in the private sector in one of many examples of the “revolving door” that characterizes the industry and its success at cultivating political relationships.  The proposal from CCA actually encourages the sale of federal prison facilities, which Mr. Lappin himself was in charge of just a few short months ago.  But that’s not all; in his capacity as director of the BOP, Mr. Lappin authored a report highly critical of the very private prison industry in which he is now employed.

Thankfully, it’s looking like the work of the groups who were quick to oppose CCA’s proposal is paying off.  Many states have already decided to reject it; at least five states, including those with the highest correctional populations, many of which have existing contracts with private prison companies, have said they aren’t even considering it.  I guess their current relationships with the industry have dissuaded them from wanting to further entangle themselves with a company that profits off human misery.  Who woulda thunk?  Of course, some governments were bound to take the bait; Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal recently announced his plans to sell a state prison to the highest bidder, which is, in the words of a state representative, “an unlawful dereliction of state duty.”

I’m sure this won’t be the last of what we hear from states as they consider the proposal.  But hopefully this will be the last bad news.

The UK’s Dubious Prison Privatization Experience

8:55 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

UK’s Dubious Privatization Experience

Though I rarely touch on international private prison news, two recent stories from our friends across the pond caught my attention recently.  The first is an article from The Guardian discussing the proposed privatization of nine prisons in England, which the author concludes would work out very well for any corporation that wins the contract but not so well for prisoners who end up housed in a private facility.  Research cited by the author has shown that private prisons present a much higher risk to the safety of prisoners, staff, and the general public.  Private prisons in the UK has seen some of the same problems as the industry experiences here in the US; “green” staff, with little training and a high rate of turnover, which results in higher levels of violence and decreased security.  Likewise, the industry falls victim to the profit motive, as private prison operators continually cut costs at the expense of prisoner rehabilitation and care.

England is facing a crisis of incarceration similar to, but on a much smaller scale than our own, driven by things like mandatory minimum sentences and 3-strikes laws, which has prompted lawmakers to seek ways to cut the prison population or at least make it more manageable.  Unfortunately, they seem to be taking a page out of our manual in dealing with the crisis, focusing more on increasing capacity by outsourcing services to private companies than on smart and efficient legislative and policy initiatives designed to reduce the prison population.

The second is an article that uncovers an “eye-watering scandal;” namely, that the competitive bidding process currently underway to operate 5 facilities is rigged in favor of the private companies.  Stipulations were introduced by the government late into the process that rendered bids from public entities non-competitive, and the private industry has basically been handed a cakewalk of a bidding process.  It’s a clear handout to the industry, and as the assistant secretary general of the probation union said, “Prison Privatisation is no longer based on efficiency, it’s now ideological.”

 

CCA and Yesterday’s Supreme Court Decision

8:44 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

CCA and Yesterday’s Supreme Court Decision

Yesterday SCOTUS ruled in Brown v. Plata that California must reduce its prison population by over 30,000 prisoners. Why? Because their system was so severely overcrowded that the medical neglect prisoners were facing amounted to a violation of their 8th Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. That’s some mightily deficient medical care.

California has been facing a crisis in its prison system for decades, as the sentencing reforms that came as a result of the War on Drugs and other initiatives have steered an ever-increasing segment of the populace into prison. Arguably most impactful in this regard is California’s “Three Strikes” laws, which mandate a life sentence for anyone convicted of a third felony charge, whether that charge be for murder or larceny, rape or possession of a controlled substance. California’s prison population has grown dramatically under this legislation.

“Three Strikes” laws were initially devised in, and then promoted by members of, a conservative legislation front group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is a nonprofit group that brings the leaders of the biggest companies in the country together with state legislators in an open forum where model legislation is developed. These state legislators then return with model legislation in hand to their state Assemblies, often to see the bills passed. This really shouldn’t be legal, because nonprofits aren’t supposed to develop model legislation, but since nearly 2/3 of state Republican legislators are members, a blind eye is conveniently turned to this fact.

ALEC is essentially a pay-to-play organization; the more a company pays in membership fees, conference fees, etc., the more influence they can expect to have on the model legislation that’s developed. During the 90’s, CCA paid more than $20,000 per year for a seat on the steering committee of ALEC’s Criminal Justice taskforce, in which the 3-strikes law was developed.

To the joy of hard-line criminal justice advocates everywhere, 3-strikes laws passed with much fanfare in California and elsewhere, though they have had the largest direct impact on a prison population in the Golden State. CCA had direct influence over the drafting, and final approval of the model, of this law. CCA also began operations in California in the 90s, and have since developed a strong relationship with the state government through campaign donations and lobbying. Such a strong relationship in fact that, as California’s population spiraled out of control, CCA increased their contract with the state by more than 3,000%, with practically no public bidding process. So CCA pretty much wrote the law that has had the single largest impact on California’s growing prison population. The very same law they have greatly benefited from as their market share in the state increased 30-fold.

New/Old Governor Jerry Brown has proposed to redistribute many of the state’s prisoners to county jails, primarily nonviolent ones. But this is not a solution; all it does is shift the onus of California’s over-reliance on incarceration to smaller jurisdictions and excuse the state of its responsibility to be accountable for the people it has locked up. Other proposals include the option of shipping prisoners to private facilities in other states, or building even more private prisons. These aren’t solutions either.

The right thing to do would be to reverse 3-strikes, provide for compassionate release of older prisoners with major health problems, and reform technical parole violations. Essentially, begin to wean California off its addiction to incarceration as a primary means of punishment/social control. But I guess that would be just too logical.

I’ve Been Saying This for Years

8:16 am in Uncategorized by WhyIHateCCA

I’ve Been Saying This for Years…

 An excellent article in the New York Times from last week discusses how private prisons have failed to deliver on their promises of cost-savings in Arizona. In fact, “privately operated prisons can cost more to operate than state-run prisons — even though they often steer clear of the sickest, costliest inmates.”

Private prisons essentially cherry-pick their prisoners. They take primarily low-level, nonviolent offenders, who cost less to house and maintain. They take mostly younger guys, and force the state to take older prisoners, who are more prone to costly health problems. They also rarely house high-security inmates.

In addition to all this, they cut corners on maintenance, have a horrible track record of denying medical care, and use significantly less staff than government-run institutions (staff costs being among the most expensive components of a prison’s budget). They pay and train their staff less, and offer less benefits, which results in their staff being by and large less qualified and professional than you’d find in a government prisons.

Yet even after all of this, they still don’t save a significant amount of money, and can even cost more to operate than a government-run facility. This study is just the latest of numerous reports that have all found essentially the same thing, going back nearly a decade. But our country’s inability to enact effective sentencing and parole/probation reform to reduce our over-reliance on incarceration has caused governments to continue to perform this failed experiment with privatization. Hopefully, the decision that came down today in Plata v. Schwarzenneger will demonstrate that we cannot just continue to expand our prison population indefinitely.