. . . maybe they should be assigned to private prisons. Out of simple fairness. They believe in privatization. They’ve gone a long way to privatize our prison system.
In the meantime, Republican legislators might read Shane Bauer’s American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey Into the Business of Punishment.
. . . Prisons operated by companies like CCA (recently rebranded as CoreCivic), which was founded in 1983 and is now a $3.04 billion publicly traded concern, don’t typically grow crops or manufacture anything of value. Inmates themselves are the commodities, and money is made by persuading legislators that a private operator can confine and care for them more cheaply — in Winn’s case, $34 per inmate per day — than the state. Of course, penny-pinching and staff shortages are found at state-run lockups, too (especially in places like Louisiana), but there is another consideration when a profit-seeking middleman gets involved: What happens when setting a prisoner free is detrimental to a company’s bottom line? Bauer discovers that a Winn inmate was held for a full year after he was eligible for release, ostensibly because he had no address in Louisiana that would take him in — a technicality that presumably earned the company an additional $12,410 from his continued incarceration.
It’s not just the convicts who are being exploited. Most of the guards at Winn, like Bauer himself, are afraid of their charges and resentful of the chaos that makes their jobs more dangerous. Bauer is a generous narrator with a nice ear for detail, and his colleagues come across as sympathetic characters, with a few notable exceptions. In a wonderful twist, he interviews a number of them after his deception is eventually exposed. How much loyalty does $9 per hour buy? About as much as you’d imagine; most are all too happy to help pull the curtain back on CCA.
Bauer’s takeaway is that private prisons like Winn can’t be fixed, that the profit motive inevitably drives companies to take risks and cut corners. He’s not the only one to draw that conclusion; after Mother Jones ran his article, Bauer was invited to Washington to talk to federal officials studying the efficacy of private prisons. Not long after, the Obama administration announced that the Department of Justice would no longer contract with CCA or its ilk. It turned out to be a short-lived mandate, reversed almost immediately by the incoming attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Today the industry is thriving thanks to a bull market in immigrant detention.
As for Winn, conditions at the unit continued to deteriorate until personnel from a state-run prison stormed in and temporarily regained control. Two weeks after Bauer left, CCA voluntarily withdrew from its contract, essentially admitting that the facility was a lost cause. Louisiana officials didn’t see it that way, however. Another company, LaSalle Corrections, promptly took over management of Winn, though the state is no longer paying CCA’s bargain rate of $34 per day.
LaSalle agreed to do the job for $24.
Keep your nose clean, dear reader. And if you do ever get sentenced to prison, even if you’re not Jewish, Bill Maher suggests this one for your consideration.
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[It would be splendid if someday] economists could manage to get themselves thought of as humble, competent people, on a level with dentists.~John Maynard Keynes
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