Civil Discourse Now

Where the far left and far right overlap for fun and enlightenment

America is not the "land of the free"---part 1---privatization of prisons.

   Today’s Show: we discuss what the Bill of Rights means. Our guests will be Jeff Cox and Adam Lenkowsky. We stream "live" at 11 a.m.

   There are false beliefs that have been spread and accepted for a long time. One of the most prominent—and false—is that the United States of America is "the land of the free."

   How does one measure freedom?

   The United States has roughly five percent (5%) of the world’s population, but twenty-five percent of the world’s population of prison inmates. China—the country with the guy, who stood in front of a tank in 1989, and promptly disappeared—has four times our population and one-third (1/3) fewer prison inmates. China has the second-most prison inmates in the world.

   We have created a criminal justice system that thrives, economically, on incarceration. Louisiana leads the country in this innovation. Louisiana has privatized many of its penal facilities. In the public sphere, "Sportsman’s Paradise" Sheriffs profit from each inmate booked into a parish (they have parishes instead of counties, a relic of the state’s heritage of adherence to the Napoleonic Code). The privately-run prisons, of course, makes money. As Cindy Chang, a reporter for New Orleans’s Times-Picayune wrote: "[I]nmates live in bare-bones conditions with few programs to give them a better shot at becoming better citizens. Each inmate is worth $24.39 a day in state money, and sheriffs trade them like horses, unloading a few extras on a colleague who has openings. A prison system that leased its convicts as plantation labor in the 1800s has come full circle and again is a nexus for profit. In the past two decades, Louisiana’s prison population has doubled while New Orleans continues to lead the nation in homicides."

   One might argue the privately-run prison—run like a "business"—emphasizes efficiency and, therefore, saves the public money. There are some government services that should not be privatized. Incarceration of individuals convicted of criminal offenses is one of these services. If a company makes more money when more people are imprisoned, that company will tend to want the criminal justice system to put more people into the privately-run prisons. The corporations that run these prisons have a lot of money to pay lobbyists—CCA and Wackenhut have millions of dollars at their disposal—to seek to block laws that would result in fewer prison inmates.

   If marijuana were legal tomorrow, and those people, currently incarcerated only for marijuana offenses, were freed, the corporations would lose a lot of dough. Never mind that Jefferson and Washington—yes, two of this nation’s first three presidents—smoked pot, or that the last three presidents have admitted to use of cannabis at a younger age, there are rigidly-held positions against legalization. By prisons being privatized, we add a factor into the matter of legislation: corporations make money from putting people behind bars. That factor should not be in the equation when the penal codes are determined.

   CCA—a corporation that operates the New Castle Correctional Facility here in Indiana—has presented contracts to 48 of the states with a provision that each state will maintain a Ninety percent (90%) occupancy of a given state’s prisons if the state signs on with CCA. That warps the notion of our criminal justice system as "blind." Legislators—none of whom, I am certain, will have received any little "perks" from lobbyists to back legislation—will be more inclined to "get tough" on crime and incarcerate people.

   In Louisiana, when a Federal court order required New Orleans to reduce prison overcrowding and the incarceration rate was half of what it is today, the State could have locked up fewer people or built more prisons.  As Ms. Chang wrote: "It achieved the latter, not with new state prisons - - there was no money for that - - but by encouraging sheriffs o foot the construction bills in return for future profits. The financial incentives were so sweet, and the corrections jobs so sought after, that new prisons sprouted up all over Louisiana."

   Robert Blake’s character Barretta said, "Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time." Blake walked on charges of murder of his wife. He was found "not guilty." Unfortunately, if we privatize our prison systems, more people will be incarcerated for newly-contrived offenses.

   This is not the "land of the free" if we have so many people in prisons.  

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