Today’s article will be shorter on statistics than most of the articles I write about topics like this; but it will be long on important principle.
Last week the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it would discontinue incarcerating prisoners under its jurisdiction in corporate prisons. On principle that is huge! Unfortunately it only affects a small number of the incarcerated population in America. It is also the ruling of an executive branch agency and can be easily countermanded by the next administration. Let’s explore some of those issues.
The last point is the easiest to deal with. If Hillary Clinton becomes the next President there is every reason to believe that the order will stand. There is a huge money in politics issue at play here and the prison corporations tend to favor Republicans by a wide margin at the higher office campaign donation level. Also the corporate prison problem is a major factor in the mass incarceration problem. While a valid case can and has been made that some of Bill Clinton’s policies inadvertently contributed to the mass incarceration problem; there is every reason to believe that Hillary Clinton has no desire to nor is it politically advantageous for her to exacerbate it.
What Trump would do is questionable but generally speaking Republicans look favorably upon corporate prisons and their campaign coffers do well with corporate prison money. If the problems with corporate prisons (which your tax dollars still fund) and mass incarceration trouble you the solution is simple: vote for Hillary.
On the whole corporate prisons have proven to be inferior to state run prisons. Despite being a liberal I am not necessarily a coddle criminals person. I believe prison should be an unpleasant experience. However inmates are human and it should not be a barbaric or dehumanizing experience.
I have to relay a personal experience. Several years ago I was invited to examine my county’s budget. I had only lived in the county for a few years at the time so my perspective was relatively untarnished by what I thought I knew and I entered sans preconceived notions. As I compared several consecutive budgets I noticed a large spike in Sherriff Department and prison costs one year and it continued forward. My business experience taught me that changes like that happen for a reason so I went about looking for the “factor” that changed in the “equation”. My first thought was a major increase in population. Although the county was growing in that time period, it was at the same basic modest rate. Next I inquired if gangs or drugs (often the two are closely related) had moved in. I never noticed any gang activity but I lived in one of the county’s better neighborhoods. Again the answer was no. I finally simply asked what changed between the two budgets. The answer was that the county had sold the jail to a private for-profit concern.
Without getting too far into the weeds, private prisons are run pretty much like hotels and the name of the game is to keep the rooms full. There was suddenly an incentive to lock people up who might have simply gotten an appearance ticket in the past. Also there was an incentive for judges to incarcerate more defendants and often for longer terms. I’m not going to play Sociologist here. It is sufficient to say that more prisoners and longer terms cost the taxpayer more money in several ways.
This was a good first step, but that is all. This ruling affected DOJ but not any other federal agency at the moment. That includes Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) who locks up more people than the DOJ does. It has absolutely no effect on state and local municipalities.
If your local municipality tries to convert to using corporate jails fight it; if it already does vote for politicians who will try to change the policy. The tax dollars you will save will be your own and you will make your and your neighbors’ lives better in the process.
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