The Private Prison Industry on Tilt

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10 Responses

  1. dre, The prison-industrial complex is one of the greatest injustices of our generation. Thanks for focusing your posts on this issue, but what should be the strategy against well-organized prison companies?

  2. Brett Bellmore says:

    “The prison-industrial complex is one of the greatest injustices of our generation.”

    Because a war on drugs that imprisoned a terrifying fraction of our population would be so much better if the prisons they were warehoused in were government run?

    The problem here isn’t who’s running the prisons. It’s what’s illegal…

  3. Ken Rhodes says:

    @Brett: You make an important point about an important problem, but I don’t agree with your “either A or B” dichotomy. I think they are *both* problems.

  4. DS says:

    Interesting post. I, too, share Brett Bellmore’s concern though. Joshua Page’s recent book (The Toughest Beat, 2011, OUP) makes a compelling case that the California Correctional Peace Officers Association is a major lobbyist responsible for tough on crime laws. It seems like we should be just as skeptical of public sector prison employees as private ones. In other words, a return to a fully public program isn’t a silver bullet.

  5. JoeJP says:

    “The problem here isn’t who’s running the prisons. It’s what’s illegal.”

    It’s both. And, the prisons aren’t just going to hold the “wrong” type of criminals. Some prisoners are going to be held, only a minority in prison for drugs.

  6. I agree with JoeJP and Ken, and would emphasize the role of the “industry” in keeping our drug laws draconian: “Three strikes and you’re a life-long customer”

    So I ask again – solutions?

  7. andré douglas pond cummings says:

    great comments. thanks all.

    kevin, i agree that the incentives for imprisoning american citizens are now so perverse, that we are actually witnessing one of the great injustices of U.S. history when considering modern mass incarceration. and i do not make that statement lightly, when thinking through slavery, jim crow, american indian genocide, and the massive discriminations we’ve engaged in societally since the founding.

    a couple of thoughts: first, bernard harcourt has just released a really insightful book “the illusion of free markets” where he carefully traces the ways that we have adopted structural definitions for government’s proper role in capital markets and in penal policy making. he argues, and i agree with him, that we have adopted nonsensical constructions of “free markets” where government should play no role in economic market policy, when truly, our markets are far from free, and in neoliberal penality where government is meant to play a punitive role in prison policy, as if that is the true purpose of government’s role. these adoptions are illusory. harcourt calls for a massive reconstruction of the way that we think about and talk about economic market policy and prison penal policy in the united states. i recommend the read.

    second, i think that shareholder activism holds promising potential for the specific problem of the private prison corporation issue. in a future post, i will note where several church pension funds are withdrawing their massive investment positions from companies like the cca and the geo group who profit from imprisoning human beings.

  8. Debbie says:

    I had a client who was sentenced to one of these private hellholes. He had had a knee removed because of a bone problem, and the artificial knee had to be removed due to an infection. When he was in DC, he had a motorized wheel chair. It didn’t fit in the DC jail, so he was given a walker. When he got to the hellhole, his walker was taken away from him.
    I cannot imagine anything sicker than privatising prisons. Prisoners lose a lot of rights, so it isn’t as though a lawyer can just go into court to have their rights and necessities restored to them.

  9. Frank Pasquale says:

    Kevin, I think dre’s points above are good. I also agree with Michelle Alexander that it will take a social movement to take on this injustice, much like the Civil Rights movement.

    My main fear now is that technologized crowd control and stigmatizing reputational systems will raise the cost of “passive resistance” to unacceptable levels, or simply disappear it. I therefore think that part of the solution must involve statutory or constitutional level prohibitions on certain forms of crowd control, arrests of protesters, and even the use of arrests for protests in reputation systems that are commonly deployed to deny future opportunities.

    Of course, it is no surprise that the current Supreme Court jumped at the chance to deny, say, a strip-searched, protesting nun (an actual example from Breyer’s dissent) the right to challenge her treatment. I am afraid that the same Court would probably have little problem with the use of sound cannons, heat guns (which would gradually raise body temperature), pepper spray, nerve-damaging zip-ties, or microdrones, to “deal with” protesters. But if these methods become widespread, there is probably little chance of ever turning public attention to the injustices dre describes.

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