Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger
We have had a lot of discussions here about the ever growing private prison system in the United States, where our country has become the world leader in imprisoning its citizens. Many blogs have been written discussing our world prison leadership and the fact that it stems from the failed “War on Drugs”, which has tended to focus on people in poverty and/or people of color. The for-profit prison industry has had a growth spurt that can be directly traced to that aspect of the conservative movement that has disparaged government services and at the same time pushed for privatization of government services using the false concept that private industry can do it better and cheaper. It is an ideas that to me seems nonsensical on its face because of the absolute need that private industry turns a profit and in today’s economic scheme that profit has to continually rise as time passes. Business strategy, which by definition, must focus on profit has focused on cutting costs as a means of building profit. Cutting costs then devolves into hiring less skilled workers, cutting down on services provided and in a business like private prisons reducing the quality of care. When ot comes to reduction of services and diminishing of quality of care when it comes to the prison industry, I’m sure that the majority of public opinion would approve of even more draconian measures. After all those convicted of a crime are generally scorned and feared. Muscular fundamentalist philosophy has discarded the Jesus of turn the other cheek into a Jesus of vengeance and so there is even in some circles moral approval of treating prison inmates harshly. There is now a widespread use of solitary confinement as a tool of prison punishment and that confinement has stretched from weeks, too months and too years. We are after all, a society that has a majority of Americans for torture in our post 9/11 era.
In 2008 we saw the opening of a scandal in Pennsylvania where it was discovered that juvenile court judges were sentencing youths to prison for minor offenses because they had received money from sources in the private prison industry. Two judges were convicted in this case and it was seen that many youths were adversely affected and are now suing for unlawful imprisonment. It is this profiting on the imprisonment of youth that I would like to address broadly in this blog. For the most part my reference links will appear at its conclusion. This is a very disturbing problem that I think cuts to the heart of what kind of society we want to live in and I would hope that others find this as disturbing as I do.The impetus for this blog is a Huffington Post story titled: “Prisoners of Profit” by Chris Kirkham http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-kirkham/
“From a glance at his background, one might assume that James F. Slattery would have a difficult time convincing any state in America to entrust him with the supervision of its lawbreaking youth.
Over the past quarter century, Slattery’s for-profit prison enterprises have run afoul of the Justice Department and authorities in New York, Florida, Maryland, Nevada and Texas for alleged offenses ranging from condoning abuse of inmates to plying politicians with undisclosed gifts while seeking to secure state contracts.”
He goes on to give specifics about incidents that have occurred in Slattery’s prisons such as a teen dying in a Texas Boot Camp that went untreated by authorities although the boy was vomiting; a Maryland facility that encouraged kids to fight on Saturday mornings as a method of dispute resolution; and in Florida charges that the company failed to report incidents of riots, assaults and sexual abuse.
“Despite that history, Slattery’s current company, Youth Services International, has retained and even expanded its contracts to operate juvenile prisons in several states. The company has capitalized on budgetary strains across the country as governments embrace privatization in pursuit of cost savings. Nearly 40 percent of the nation’s juvenile delinquents are today committed to private facilities, according to the most recent federal data from 2011, up from about 33 percent twelve years earlier.
Over the past two decades, more than 40,000 boys and girls in 16 states have gone through one of Slattery’s prisons, boot camps or detention centers, according to a Huffington Post analysis of juvenile facility data.”
It all returns to the analysis of whether for-profit prisons for youth provide not only cost savings, but actually are effective in reducing rates of recidivism. Study after study has shown that recidivism rates have actually increased with private prisons and that costs have exceeded prisons maintained by public employees. This large and growing industry though has become an investment opportunity for some and a profit point for others, yet the abuses continue unabated.
“Seventeen-year-old Hillary Transue did what lots of 17-year-olds do: Got into mischief. Hillary’s mischief was composing a MySpace page poking fun at the assistant principal of the high school she attended in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Hillary was an honor student who’d never had any trouble with the law before. And her MySpace page stated clearly that the page was a joke. But despite all that, Hilary found herself charged with harassment. She stood before a judge and heard him sentence her to three months in a juvenile detention facility.
What she expected was perhaps a stern lecture. What she got was a perp walk – being led away in handcuffs as her stunned parents stood by helplessly. Hillary told The New York Times, “I felt like I had been thrown into some surreal sort of nightmare. All I wanted to know was how this could be fair and why the judge would do such a thing.”
It wasn’t until two years later that she found out why. In Scranton, Pennsylvania, two judges pleaded guilty to operating a kickback scheme involving juvenile offenders. The judges, Mark Ciavarella Jr. and Michael Conahan, took more than $2.6 million in kickbacks from a private prison company to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers. Since 2003, Ciaverella had sentenced an estimated 5,000 juveniles. Conahan was accused of setting up the contracts. Many of the youngsters shipped off to the detention centers were first-time offenders.
PA Child Care is a juvenile detention center in Pittston Township, Pennsylvania. It was opened in February 2003. It has a sister company, Western PA Child Care, in Butler County, Pennsylvania. Treatment at both facilities is provided by Mid Atlantic Youth Services. Gregory Zappala took sole ownership of the company when he purchased co-owner Robert Powell’s share in June 2008.
In July 2009, Powell pled guilty to failing to report a felony and being an accessory to tax evasion conspiracy in connection with $770,000 in kickbacks he paid to Ciavarella and Conahan in exchange for facilitating the development of his facilities.
The childcare facilities have also been criticized for their costs, which ranged as high as $315 per child per day. Butler County paid Western PA Child Care about $800,000 in payments between 2005 and 2008. Butler County did not renew Western PA Child Care’s contract after an extension of the contract ran out at the end of 2008.” http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/1905:the-corrupt-corporate-incarceration-complex
Now I would be remiss in not saying that there are other studies that laud the use of private prisons, on such is “The Reason Foundation” which is purportedly a libertarian organization. They have a report on private prisons with a conclusion that lauds the private prison industry for providing better services for the prisoners. That report can be found here: http://www.burnetcountytexas.org/docs/6-Segal-Commission-on-PrisonAbuse.pdf Interestingly though the Reason Foundation seems to stretch libertarianism to its breaking point in when it comes to Federal Funding of certain educational tests it supports as shown here: http://www.lewrockwell.com/lrc-blog/the-reason-foundation-a-disgrace/ Finally though comes the fact that the Reason Foundation is one of the front groups funded by the right wing ideologues The Koch Brothers and Sarah Scaife Foundation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reason_Foundation The family history of both the Koch’s and the Scaifes (Mellon Family) show that much of the wealth garnered came from government and indeed a Mellon was the Treasury Secretary during the Coolidge Administration. Their libertarianism is their philosophy for all but the members of their economic class.
“In Florida, where private contractors have in recent years taken control of all of the state’s 3,300 youth prison beds, YSI now manages more than $100 million in contracts, about 10 percent of the system. Its facilities have generated conspicuously large numbers of claims that guards have assaulted youth, according to a HuffPost compilation of state reports. A YSI facility in Palm Beach County had the highest rate of reported sexual assaults out of 36 facilities reviewed in Florida, the Bureau of Justice Statistics report found.
The state’s sweeping privatization of its juvenile incarceration system has produced some of the worst re-offending rates in the nation. More than 40 percent of youth offenders sent to one of Florida’s juvenile prisons wind up arrested and convicted of another crime within a year of their release, according to state data. In New York state, where historically no youth offenders have been held in private institutions, 25 percent are convicted again within that timeframe.”
In my opinion there are three aspects to the private prison industry that one should ponder upon when judging its efficacy:
- 1. Can a for-profit firm do the job cheaper? In my opinion it is impossible for a private entity to deliver the same level of care as a public entity. Profit is the underlying reason. We must consider that running a prison is in no way similar to manufacturing. In manufacturing the issue is efficiency and economy of scale. In dealing with humans one cannot use economy of scale as a comparison factor since one is not producing widgets. As for efficiency the question is how do you equal performance by increasing efficiency in a prison context. I don’t believe it can be done. Perhaps others might show me good reasons why it can be done.
- 2. In our legal system should we surrender control of custodial care of criminals to private industry? My position is that there are certain functions inherent to any government that needs to be performed solely by government. Among these are military, fire fighters, police and the entire criminal justice system. This is not to say that any of these functions can’t be corrupted if run by government, or that any governmental system cannot be corrupt. Yet in my opinion if government makes the criminal law and if under that law people are incarcerated the ultimate responsibility for the caretaker function of that incarceration should fall to government. We see above that with youth facilities in Pennsylvania run as for-profit institutions a corrupt conspiracy developed to maintain levels of incarcerated youth at a profitable number and due to this judges were bribed and youths sent to jail merely to satisfy the need for profit. Do we really support that in our country, or in our States?
- 3. Should a humane society treat its prisoners inhumanely? This shouldn’t be, but is, a subtle question today. I have little doubt that the majority of Americans believe that whatever happens to people convicted of crimes they deserve. To me that kind of thinking is institutionalized savagery. Yet I anticipate the well worn question of what if something was done to someone I love. The analogy amuses me because it assumes that my beliefs make me merely a passive do-gooder, which is far from the case. If someone I loved were hurt by a criminal I would have little compunction in killing them violently if I had the chance and would gladly accept the punishment for same. The problem is that as a society we almost never know for certain if the supposed guilty party really is guilty, whether if accused by the authorities, or convicted. The police may well accuse someone of murdering a loved one, but there have been too many murder convictions overthrown for a conviction ever to be a certainty. Too many people have been convicted by circumstantial evidence, or by eyewitness accounts proven to be untrue. Because of that uncertainty, my “avenging hand” would be stayed unless the crime occurred before my eyes. Since that is such an extremely rare happenstance the certainly of not killing an innocent is at enough of a level for me not to want to take the chance. By the same token the vagaries of our criminal justice system are such that perhaps 5%, to use a conservative estimate, of criminals are wrongly convicted. That 5% would represent more than 100,000 people and that’s assuming that the legal system gets it right 95% of the time. For those 100,000 innocent people to be brutalized by the system that deprives them of liberty is unacceptable to me. Then again, that’s why I am opposed to the death penalty which to me if it results in the death of one innocent person, has caused one death too many.
I believe that the entire concept of a privatized prison system is an abomination and even more so when we are dealing with the incarceration of youths. What is your opinion?
Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger