On the prison industry

In the Utopia of Userers, Chesterton, that curious mixture of Catholic anti-semite reactionary and anti-capitalist critic, launched an all out assault on the “small-minded cynicism of our
plutocracy, its secrecy, its gambling spirit, its contempt of conscience…”

But even Chesterton could not have dreamt of the extension of the Utopia to prison itself. Only in the U.S., where we have joined together peanut butter and chocolate, and coca cola and rum, would it occur to anybody to join together the two great tastes of libertarianism and the Gulag. But so it happened! Here’s the story from the very downloadable Justice Policy Institute report, Gaming the System:

“A prime example of the influence underscoring the private prison industry is the development of
Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). CCA cofounder, Tom Beasley, then-chairman of the
Tennessee Republican Party, had served on a committee tasked with choosing a new state corrections officer.28 Beasley‟s research uncovered a system plagued by overcrowding, tight budgets and high turnover, convincing him that with a few simple applications of business practices the corrections system could be transformed from an inefficient bureaucracy to a profitable business.29 Joined by two friends, Doctor Crants, a lawyer and MBA Harvard graduate and Don Hutto, who at the time was the president of the American Correctional Association, CCA entered the market by attempting to take over the entire Tennessee prison system.30 The combination of Beasley‟s political connections, Crants‟ business savvy, and Hutto‟s correctional credentials allowed for easy access to the necessary contacts and investors to launch America‟s first private prison company.”

This is the conservative version of American capitalism in its most naked – extolling the benefits of the private sphere whilst depending utterly on the flow of tax dollars to fatten the salaries of its investors and upper management. As an added conceptual plus, liberty, here, is used to deprive more and more people of liberty. So, in an era in which, according to police statistics, the crime rate in America has dropped to a level not seen since the early sixties, we are using the prison system to essentially replace the social welfare system. In 1960, there were, in all, 333,000 people in jail, approximately. In 2010, there were 2,266,800, plus another 4,933,667 on parole. More than any other country. But…
You can see the problem. CCA has a wonderful gig now, but how about growth opportunities? 

According toGaming the System:

“Since 2000, private prisons have increased their share of the ‚market‛ substantially: the number of people held in private federal facilities increased approximately 120 percent, while the number
held in private state facilities increased approximately 33 percent. During this same period, the total number of people in prison increased less than 16 percent. Meanwhile, spending on corrections has increased 72 percent since 1997, to $74 billion in 2007.3 The two largest private prison companies, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, combined
had over  $2.9 billion in revenue in 2010.”

As Chesterton wrote: “This Capitalist is an ingenious person, and has many polished characteristics; but I think the most singular thing about him is his staggering lack of shame. Neither the hour of death nor the day of reckoning, neither the tent of exile nor the house of mourning, neither chivalry nor patriotism, neither womanhood nor widowhood, is safe at this supreme moment from his dirty little expedient of dieting the slave. As similar bullies, when they collect the slum rents, put a foot in the open door, these are always ready to push in a muddy wedge wherever there is a slit in a sundered household or a crack in a broken heart.” This may seem like mere invective to you, who are a patsy – to  GEO and CCA, it represents a business plan. This is from the Sun Sentinal, concerning the recent Florida scam:

“According to [The National Institute on Money in State Politics], the private prison industry has gave nearly $1 million in campaign contributions during the 2010 election cycle, the most the industry has given over the last decade, with the donations largely coming from five companies: GeoGroup, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), Global Tel* Link, Armor Correctional Health Services, and LCS Corrections Services, Inc.
The full Senate this week will take up a plan to privatize 29 prisons in South Florida, which Senate budget chairman JD Alexander has predicted could save the state up to $45 million. The move is opposed by correctional workers though, who have turned out in large numbers at committee hearings to protest the proposal.
An identical proposal was approved by the Legislature last year, but shot down by the courts on technical grounds because the plan was written into the budget, rather than debated and passed in separate legislation.
Florida is home to the nation’s third-largest penal system, a fact likely not lost on the state’s lawmakers when they finalized the state’s $69.7 billion budget last May. Taking aim at $4 billion in government spending, last year’s budget included a plan to privatize prisons in the southern third of the state that would have nearly quadrupled the number of Florida prisons run by private firms.”
The figures are, as always, astonishing. One of the advantages of democracy, it turns out, is that it can be bought for rock bottom prices. You can easily whip up an ideological mood and buy a baker’s dozen of legislators for less money than Jamie Dimon spent to remodel his office at JP Morgan Chase. The big money in a declining empire has, traditionally,  been in pilfering the Imperial centers, as the peasants are exhausted, the tribute is killing them, and the great plantations are creating less and less. So it is with the States. The abdication of public responsibility in tandem with an aggressive peculation that clothes itself in the virtues of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness has created a very happy shift towards the one percent, where innumerable capillaries direct money from the state directly into the pockets of the corporation. The prison corporations are pursuing much the same method that has made, say, Bain Corporation such heady bucks: the latter  would clear out a company and, using bankruptcy law and the orders of a compliant court, thrust pension expenses on the government to achieve the  magical mystery ROI and then move on, leaving a downsized ruin behind it. There’s similar money to be made privatizing everything government and creating a lower level life style for everyone outside the gated community. Since 3.1 percent of all adults in America are either in jail or on parole, we are talking of a very strong market, here, the equivalent of the junk bond market – call it the market in junk people. We can imprison this scum, deny them the right to vote,  and variously cheat them through the traditional legalized money lending practices without a single respectable person protesting. But, problematically, it is hard to wring money out of them. That’s why imprisoning them is such a wonderful trick – valueless in themselves, each of those bodies is backed up by bucks as soon as you bumrush them through the courts and behind bars.

At one time, there might even have existed one or two politicos or public figures to whine about this state of affairs. But that time ended in 1968, and since then the gated community and the private prison have gone hand in hand, dividing up the American landscape. We can be sure that this year, as in 2008, 2004, 2000, 1996, 1992, 1988, 1984, 1980, and on and on, not a single question will be asked about the astonishing amount of adults circulated through the incarceration  industry; and if it were asked, we can be sure that Romney I and Romney II, our parity product presidential candidates, would answer with pretty much the same tough on crime boilerplate; and we can also be sure that neither one will lose a single supporter for not noticing the Gulag.

But if we cannot have the power to chose, we can at least luxuriate in the impotence of knowing.  Which is why you, reader, should definitely hasten to the report, Gaming the System, for a fun half hour of Sunday reading. Then forget it. Nothing is going to happen to make the situation better; everything is set up to make it much worse.