Saturday, June 18, 2011

Private Prisons and the American Police State

by S. Paul Forrest

This article was originally written for an interview with New Dissident Radio's Lakota Phillips on Breaking Taboo.

In the last few decades, the population of our National Prisons has nearly tripled.  This phenomenon can be attributed to many factors ranging from the increasing economic insecurity to the War on Drugs.  Statistics tell us that 1 in 18 American men are now incarcerated or being monitored.  Although this number could be reasonably justified as a reflection of our social morality breakdown, America still leads the world in per capita imprisonment and the privatization of the our corrections system calls into question the motives behind tougher sentencing and the ever increasing police state in this country.

Since 1980, the increase of population in prisons or under surveillance by the judicial system has increased to over 7 million persons.  This increase is said to be attributable to the following factors:

  1. Increased federalization of crime - The federal government has expanded its control into areas that have historically fallen under state jurisdiction.
  1. Mandatory sentencing policy - Mandatory minimum sentencing policies adopted by Congress beginning in 1984 have contributed substantially to the number of drug offenders in federal prison, both by removing discretion from sentencing judges and increasing the length of sentence for many offenders.
  1. Federal sentencing guidelines - An examination of sentencing changes in the first years of the guidelines’ implementation found that the proportion of offenders sentenced to prison rose from 52% in pre-guideline cases in 1986 to 74% in guideline cases by 1990.
What is interesting is how the population increase per year has leveled off to a 51% increase annually.  Some will use this statistic to congratulate the growing police state and mandatory sentencing structure but the real reason is a profound lack of new prisons to house the inmates.  Couple this with the recent California Supreme Court Case ruling on prison overcrowding and the need for more prisons and their associative costs becomes a dilemma needing to be addressed. 

As Dana Joel explains:

“As a national average, it costs roughly $20,000 per year to keep an inmate in prison. There are approximately 650,000 inmates in state and local prisons, double the number five years ago.  This costs taxpayers an estimated $18 billion each year.  More than two thirds of the states are facing serious overcrowding problems, and many are operating at least 50 percent over capacity.”

As evidence of this overcrowding problem; the California Supreme Court recently ruled that overcrowding was unconstitutional because it results in “cruel and unusual punishment,” a violation of the US Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.  This translates to mean either the prisons release a portion of its population or it must finds ways to maintain the present prison nation many of our citizens exist in.

In her article, Joel goes on to explain what she believes is the impetus for the drastic increase in prison populations:

Destruction of the Family & Marriage. The destruction or non-formation of the two-parent family is heavily correlated with increased levels of juvenile delinquency and crime.

Illegal Drugs & the War on Drugs. New illegal drugs or new forms of those drugs were discovered and developed. A War on Drugs swelled the prison population. Unlike real war combatants who destroy or disable their enemies, the government only puts the enemy in cages temporarily, and then releases drug war POWs to fight another day.

Abolition of Parole in the Federal System.  The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 abolished parole in the federal system, sought to eliminate huge sentencing disparities, basically made all federal sentences determinate, rejected "imprisonment as a means of promoting rehabilitation," and said "punishment should serve retributive, educational, deterrent, and incapacitative goals."

Mandatory Minimum Sentences. The federal government and states enacted various mandatory minimum sentence laws, requiring judges to impose minimum sentences for designated crimes, including drug crimes.

Three-Strikes Habitual Offender Laws.  Three-strikes habitual offender laws in many states mandated life sentences after the third felony conviction.

Incarceration of the Mentally Ill.  As mental hospitals de-institutionalized and drastically reduced the number of their patients, the mentally ill increasingly wound up in prison. Mentally ill people in large numbers changed from institutionalization in state mental hospitals to incarceration in state prisons. Around 16% of the current American prison population is mentally ill.

On the last factor:  The current push by Congressional members at both the Federal and State level to defund social programs dealing with mental health care creates an even grater need for not only prison beds but more established medical care facilities within them.  More and more institutions under the control of the Department of Corrections are being opened to replace this standard, social model.  Instead of help, the mentally ill receive jail time.  In a society where the new normal has become self-indulgence over the care of one’s Earth bound brothers and sisters, this makes perfect sense but in the real world, it is a travesty of epic proportion.

As a population becomes more and more dense, the struggles to survive become greater and aggression increases within the social strata.  This correlation creates a situation where crime rates increase dramatically, prompting the police force to increase proportionately.  The result of the ensuing insanity is a judicial system which becomes overburdened with criminal case loads and by proxy, more people are sent to prison or into the controlling probation system.

This is the current, standard model of the crime/population ratio but today, we are facing less than standard conditions, leading to an even greater problem within the judicial system.  Not only is the human rights issue and the legal enslavement of people at the forefront, the financial burden on Federal government becomes enormous.

To compensate for the decrease of federal dollars going to the care of prisoners and to sate the requirements for more space by a growing police state, the Department of Corrections began to look elsewhere for financing of in its endeavors to continue the incarceration of so many of our people.  It would of course, make too much sense for our government to reform sentencing and fix our broken judicial system.  In lieu of otherwise, reasonable solutions, the D.O.C., operating within the insanity of our corrupt political system, has opened up the market to for-profit based companies to invest in it.

“An example (of corporate run prisons) is General Electric Government Services, a subsidiary of General Electric Company, which took over RCA Service Company two years ago.  General Electric Government Services now runs the Weaversville Intensive Treatment Unit, a juvenile institution in Pennsylvania established by RCA Service Company in 1975.

Responding to Pennsylvania's urgent request for a high-security juvenile facility, RCA converted an empty state-owned building into a correction center in just ten days and positioned its staff to run the operation. In addition to the Weaversville Center, General Electric Government Services runs the Evaluation and Treatment Center in Rhode Island and the Bensalem Youth Development Center in Pennsylvania. Another significant development is the growth of joint venture agreements between local firms and national corporations.”

So now, not only is General Electric one of the largest weapons manufacturers in the U.S. and seemingly tax exempt from Federal rolls, they are now investing heavily in the private prison industry.  (One cannot help but see the philosophical parallel to the imprisonment of our Nation in our current prison of National debt and the decreasing personal, financial security as its corporate controllers attack education and worker representation.)

U.S. Corrections Corporation, a private company headquartered in Louisville to date, runs over 60 prisons in about 20 U.S. states plus Washington, DC.  CCA has contracts with federal, state, and local governments to run the prisons. The company owns most of the facilities and provides rehabilitation services for inmates. Begun in 1983, it is the largest prison corporation in the U.S. Only the federal government and three states have larger prison systems. The company trades on the New York Stock Exchange with the symbol CXW.  In 2006, revenue was $1.3 billion with profits of $105 million.

With numbers like these, it is no mystery why the soulless machine of Capitalism would attach itself to this new form of human usury.  How many people have to be imprisoned to satisfy this insatiable machine?  In this age of degrading social morals and political ethics, one would easily be led to believe this form of prisoner slavery is a new one but it is not.  In 1893, Fredrick Douglas wrote of this system being in place and using the black culture as the largest contributor to it.

Today, the system has not changed much.  Still, the ratio of black inmates to the rest of the prison population is imbalanced and prisoners are still working for the man.  One could justifiably argue that it teaches work ethic, responsibility and serves as payment on their debt to society but when this debt payment becomes the profit of the corporate interest; the means do not justify the ends especially considering how many “free men” are out of work right now.

To this author, the symbolic poignancy of this reality confirms the growing opinion that the corporatists want the American worker to be as slave labor by way of China’s efficient model.  In the same way that NAFTA effectively lowered farm worker’s pay scale in America and Mexico, this new prison labor system is allowing jobs normally held by freemen to be given to this growing, slave labor market.

With the abolition of Union representation and the ongoing “attraction” of business into individual States, the issue of labor costs and tax breaks working in concert, have come to the forefront in the political game of American industry reclamation.  With prisons providing workers and States, tax breaks through defunding social programs, even our private lives have become prisons of their own.  The jailers have taken the form of CEOs and Governor’s paid for by them.  The main difference though, is this prison often does not provide “three hots and a cot”.

Instead of reducing Federal and State sentencing mandates and increasing funding to help our citizens cope with an increasingly stressful social environment through outreach programs,  those who are supposed to be representing and protecting our freedoms have made concessions to corporations in order to increase the number of prisons in our country and their associated free labor pool.

Does this remind anyone of any time in the History of our Nation when labor was used to the benefit of the Landowners and not the labor force?  If it doesn’t, you may want to pick up a history book and read about pre-Civil War days when decades of slavery created a great deal of wealth for a few while imprisoning an entire people.  Maybe then you will realize the damaging course this nation has embarked upon.  They say history is cyclical and no where is this more horrifying than in our present Incarceration Nation.

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