Posts Tagged ‘private prison industry’

The Proceeds of Crime

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

– I regret to say that this sad story hasn’t run its course yet.    You’d think with all the ugly stories coming out about what happens when prisons are turned into profit making operations, that folks would realize that this definitely is not the way to go,

– But I read that my adopted country, New Zealand, apparently hasn’t been reading the reports.    Their new conservative government, like conservative governments everywhere, thinks that Capitalistic entrepreneurs can solve every problem correctly and efficiently.   it’s a great theory – but it has been shown to be resoundingly wrong in this case and yet, here they are about to embark on the same folly.

– Check out these stories as well: , , and

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By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian, 3rd March 2009

It’s a staggering case; more staggering still that it has scarcely been mentioned on this side of the ocean. Last week two judges in Pennsylvania were convicted of jailing some 2000 children in exchange for bribes from private prison companies.

Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan sent children to jail for offences so trivial that some of them weren’t even crimes. A 15 year-old called Hillary Transue got three months for creating a spoof web page ridiculing her school’s assistant principal. Mr Ciavarella sent Shane Bly, then 13, to boot camp for trespassing in a vacant building. He gave a 14 year-old, Jamie Quinn, 11 months in prison for slapping a friend during an argument, after the friend slapped her. The judges were paid $2.6 million by companies belonging to the Mid Atlantic Youth Services Corp for helping to fill its jails(1,2,3). This is what happens when public services are run for profit.

It’s an extreme example, but it hints at the wider consequences of the trade in human lives created by private prisons. In the US and the UK they have a powerful incentive to ensure that the number of prisoners keeps rising.

The United States is more corrupt than the UK, but it is also more transparent. There the lobbyists demanding and receiving changes to judicial policy might be exposed, and corrupt officials identified and prosecuted. The UK, with a strong tradition of official secrecy and a weak tradition of scrutiny and investigative journalism, has no such safeguards.

The corrupt judges were paid by the private prisons not only to increase the number of child convicts but also to shut down a competing prison run by the public sector. Taking bribes to bang up kids might be novel; shutting public facilities to help private companies happens – on both sides of the water – all the time.

The Wall Street Journal has shown how, as a result of lobbying by the operators, private jails in Mississippi and California are being paid for non-existent prisoners(4,5). The prison corporations have been guaranteed a certain number of inmates. If the courts fail to produce enough convicts, they get their money anyway. This outrages taxpayers in both states, which have cut essential public services to raise these funds. But there is a simple means of resolving this problem: you replace ghost inmates with real ones. As the Journal, seldom associated with raging anti-capitalism, observes, “prison expansion [has] spawned a new set of vested interests with stakes in keeping prisons full and in building more. … The result has been a financial and political bazaar, with convicts in stripes as the prize.”(6)

Even as crime declines, law-makers are pressed by their sponsors to increase the rate of imprisonment. The US has, by a very long way, the world’s highest proportion of people behind bars: 756 prisoners per 100,000 people(7), or just over 1% of the adult population(8). Similarly wealthy countries have around one-tenth of this rate of imprisonment.