Stop Incarceration for Profit in Your State


Is CCA Trying to Take Over the World?

Posted by Rachel Bloom, ACLU at 5:29pm

“Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight?”

“The same thing we do every night, Pinky — try to take over the world!”

Recently we learned that the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison company in the country, sent a letter to 48 state governors offering to buy up their state-owned and operated prisons and put them under CCA control. If offering cash-strapped states a quick infusion of money by taking control of prisons off their hands sounds too good to be true, that’s because it probably is.

Corrections Corporation of America

Image via Wikipedia

See, to take CCA up on its offer to buy a prison, a state would have to sign a 20-year contract and promise a 90 percent occupancy rate over that period. In other words, CCA is asking states to commit to maintaining prisons filled to capacity. This makes sense, since CCA is a for-profit business whose success depends on keeping prisons full, something CCA freely admits. In fact, in a 2010 Annual Report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, CCA stated: “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by…leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices.” In other words, CCA has much to gain from policies that lock up more people for more time.

Historically, CCA and other private prisons companies have built their own prisons and charged states fees to house their prisoners. This practice in itself is deeply worrying — For-profit facilities have incentives to cut corners. For example, private prisons generally pay officers less, leading to higher rates of turnover and less experienced staff.

Last year, Ohio became the first state to sell a prison that it built, owned and operated to CCA. This idea was proposed to state legislators as a way to get a quick influx of money in a cash-strapped economy. Unfortunately, evidence that private prisons save money is mixed at best; numerous studies have repeatedly shown that private prisons do not offer the savings they claim that they do or may even increase the cost to states. For example, a recent study by Arizona’s Department of Corrections showed that it may be more expensive to incarcerate inmates in private prisons than in state-run facilities.

Private prisons are bad news for many reasons — they rely on the mass incarceration of Americans, have incentives to cut corners at the expense of public safety and the well-being of prisoners and have not convincingly been shown to save states money. For all those reasons and more, states should be wary of this new offer from CCA.

Nineties cartoon aficionados know that Brain’s daily plans for world domination were regularly foiled by Pinky’s antics. We can only hope CCA’s quest to create its very own for-profit prison empire by buying up prisons all over America will meet the same fate.

(Nota del  02/14/12 )

As state governments wrestle with massive budget shortfalls, a Wall Street giant is offering a solution: cash in exchange for state property. Prisons, to be exact.

Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest operator of for-profit prisons, has sent letters recently to 48 states offering to buy up their prisons as a remedy for “challenging corrections budgets.” In exchange, the company is asking for a 20-year management contract, plus an assurance that the prison would remain at least 90 percent full, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Huffington Post.

The move reflects a significant shift in strategy for the private prison industry, which until now has expanded by building prisons of its own or managing state-controlled prisons. It also represents an unprecedented bid for more control of state prison systems.

Corrections Corporation has been a swiftly growing business, with revenues expanding more than fivefold since the mid-1990s. The company capitalized on the expansion of state prison systems in the ’80s and ’90s at the height of the so-called ‘war on drugs,’ contracting with state governments to build or manage new prisons to house an influx of drug offenders. During the past 10 years, it has found new opportunity in the business of locking up undocumented immigrants, as the federal government has contracted with private companies in an aggressive immigrant-detention campaign.

And Corrections Corporation’s offer of $250 million toward purchasing existing state prisons is yet another avenue for potential growth. The company has billed the “corrections investment initiative” as a convenient option for states in need of fresh revenue streams: The state benefits from a one-time infusion of cash, while the prison corporation wins a new long-term contract. In addition, supporters of prison privatization have argued that states can achieve cost savings through outsourcing, as prison corporations give fewer benefits to employees.

“We believe this comes at a timely and helpful juncture and hope you will share our belief in the benefits of the purchase-and-manage model,” reads the letter fromHarley Lappin, CCA’s chief corrections officer, who was a former director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Ohio sold off one of its largest prisons to Corrections Corporation last year as a way to plug holes in its budget, and government officials estimate that outsourcing the prison could save the state $3 million annually. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) proposed putting three state prisons on the block last year to generate one-time revenue, but he failed to persuade state lawmakers to endorse the plan.

Others have raised serious doubts about the wisdom of selling off and privatizing state prisons, which could give private corporations substantially more bargaining power in long-term contracts with states. Prison management contracts can be canceled or re-bid frequently, with the state still retaining ownership of the prison as an asset. But if a private company owns the prison, the state would have fewer options if it wanted to cut ties. Any alternatives for housing prisoners would likely cost more, such as building a new prison from scratch or finding another company to take in its inmates.

A series of studies has also cast doubt on the private prison industry’s main selling point: efficiency. Research across numerous states has shown that the promised savings from private prisons can be illusory at best. Cost comparisons often fail to account for extra administrative expenses borne by the state, or differences in health care costs for sickly inmates who normally remain in state supervision.

What’s more, many civil liberties advocates question why a profit motive should be tied to incarceration policies, raising concerns that cutting costs could have an adverse effect on public safety. In 1998, six prisoners, including five convicted murderers, escaped from a Corrections Corporation prison in Youngstown, Ohio, putting the company in the national spotlight amid findings of inept supervision by guards and poor training by prison officials.

“It’s a real gamble for states to say, ‘Gee, we’re going to save a lot of money this way,'” said Zach Schiller, research director at Policy Matters Ohio, which did several studies analyzing Ohio’s sale of a state prison to Corrections Corporation of America. “The idea that we should do this because we need money on a one-time basis seems like awfully short-term thinking. If we want to talk about what our needs are for the budget, and what our needs are for housing prisoners, let’s look at those on a long-term basis and see what the best decisions are.”

A spokesman for Corrections Corporation of America, Steve Owen, said the company’s contracts with any government agency are completely transparent. He pointed out that in many states, including Ohio, governments require demonstrated cost savings of 5 percent or more to enter into a contract with a private operator.

“There has to be a cost savings, and they have to monitor that over time, so I think that speaks for itself,” Owen said. “At the end of the day, if we can’t provide the scope of services and the quality of services and do it at whatever the cost savings that are required, they’re not going to continue to do business with us.”

But estimated savings often come down to how those calculations are made, and outside researchers have questioned the numbers. In Arizona, for example, a 2010 report from the state’s auditor general showed that it cost the state more to house prisoners in private facilities than public prisons after factoring in administrative costs and adjusting for the types of medical care provided to less healthy inmates who tended to be housed in public facilities. And in Florida, where lawmakers this week could decide whether to privatize more than two dozen state prisons, reports about private prisons from the state’s legislative research office note, “cost savings estimates are subject to caveats and should be evaluated cautiously.”

EXPANDING IN TIGHT TIMES

In recent years, Corrections Corporation of America has made it clear that it sees opportunity in the new era of state budget crises. During earnings calls with investors, company executives have pointed out that the Great Recession has brought renewed interest in privatization.

“We continue to believe we are very well-positioned in a market that, despite the economic pressures faced by our customers, has provided healthy financial performance,” Corrections Corporation chief executive Damon Hininger said in the company earnings call last November. “Indeed, it is because of these pressures, which lead to severe capital constraints and the need to avoid increasing their pension liabilities, that we believe our value proposition to customers is getting stronger.”

The letter sent last month to 48 states was billed on the example of Ohio, which last year sold a prison near the shore of Lake Erie to Corrections Corporation for $72.7 million.

“We want to build on that success and provide our existing or prospective government partners with access to the same opportunity,” the letter said.

Those who follow the private corrections industry said the purchasing approach gives prison companies a new option for growth. Although U.S. prison populations haveswelled to enormous proportionsgrowing more than sevenfold since the mid-1970s, growth has slowed and populations are expected to decline in many states.

“You’ve not seen inmate populations at the state level grow for the last two years,” said Kevin Campbell, a senior research analyst who follows the corrections industry at Avondale Partners, an investment firm. “So if you as an industry are going to continue to grow, then you have to think, ‘How do we take shares away from the public sector to the private sector?'”

The outright ownership of a prison generally makes state contracts more beneficial to a private operator such as Corrections Corporation of America, Campbell said. If a state owns a prison and contracts it out, the pricing tends to be more competitive, as numerous companies would be jockeying for the management job.

“That just keeps a lid on how profitable a management contract can be,” Campbell said. “That’s why their preference would be to own versus just straight-out manage a contract.”

Yet critics point to inherent problems in such long-term contracts, particularly provisions that require a prison to be 90 percent full throughout the life of an agreement. In Ohio, for example, contractors are guaranteed payment at the 90 percent rate “regardless of the actual number of inmates at the institution at that time.”

The mandate to keep prisons full raises questions about cost efficiency — what if there aren’t enough inmates? — but it also presents a moral question about maintaining a constant supply of new prisoners.

“It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Shakyra Diaz, policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio. “In order to have it at 90 percent, you need to be able to make criminals to fill it at 90 percent.”

Corrections Corporation’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission clearly point out that business success is tied to a status quo in criminal justice policy.

“The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws,” the company’s most recent annual filing noted. “For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.”

QUESTIONS ABOUT EFFICIENCY

Up until last year, the sale of a state prison to a private company was unprecedented. State and local governments have considered auctioning off all sorts of public property during the economic downturn, including even the state capitol building in Arizona.

Last year, the idea of selling prisons gained traction in both Louisiana and Ohio, as states became hungry for quick fixes to budget shortfalls. Gov. Jindal’s plan in Louisiana came up short.

Legislators and state bureaucrats did not buy the idea of balancing a budget with one-time revenues from a prison sale. Louisiana State Treasurer John Kennedy compared the strategy to “a junkie selling the television set and radio to generate money for his next fix.”

When Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) took office last year, he proposed selling off five state prisons as part of a broader plan to privatize state government.

By the time Ohio received proposals last summer from private prison companies, only one offer was deemed worthy: the $72.7 million sale of the Lake Erie Correctional Facility. In a conference call with investors last fall, Hininger, the Corrections Corporation CEO, trumpeted the Ohio deal, noting, “Ohio has been a targeted state for CCA for several years.”

Kasich’s appointed chief for state prisons, Gary Mohr, previously served as a managing director at Corrections Corporation of America before assuming his government position last year. And Kasich’s former chief of staff when he was a congressman, Donald Thibaut, now works as a lobbyist in Ohio for Corrections Corporation of America.

The state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has pointed out that Mohr took the “extraordinary step of completely removing himself from this process,” and did not have any part in examining the proposals for prison privatization last year.

State public policy groups have questioned how the sale of the Lake Erie prison shook out for taxpayers.

State officials have argued that selling and outsourcing the prison will generate $3 million in cost savings each year. But a report from Policy Matters Ohiocalculated that selling the Lake Erie prison would actually cost more in the long term than if the state continued to own the property and pay off the construction bonds. That’s because the state has to pay Corrections Corporation of America a $3.8 million annual ownership fee for housing state prisoners, in addition to the prisoner per-diem costs laid out in the contract.

According to the report, the prison sale would cost taxpayers $11 million more over the next 20 years than if the state would have continued to own the prison.

“A closer look shows that this deal has the potential to be a net loser for taxpayers right off the bat,” the report notes.

Annette Chambers-Smith, the deputy director of administration at Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said the calculations in the group’s report were “rudimentary.” She said the calculation did not account for costs the state might have for capital improvements at the prison, and did not note the additional property taxes that will come from private ownership of the facility.

“In our case we were able to not only plug the hole in the budget, but then turn around and have property taxes,” she said.

Just as cost concerns were raised in other states, groups in Ohio have questioned how much money is actually being saved by privatizing prison operations. Policy Matters Ohio said it found significant problems with the way the state calculated private prison “savings” in its report.

For example, to compare the costs at a privately run prison to a state prison, the state’s department of corrections had to create a hypothetical state-run prison that would be the same size as a privately managed prison. The hypothetical example, however, contained central office and administrative staff costs that were not figured in for the private prison, making the state prison appear more costly, Policy Matters Ohio found.

In reality, the state is tasked with overseeing and administering private prisons in the correctional system — creating an additional cost — even if state employees aren’t staffing the prisons.

Chambers-Smith, of the Ohio corrections department, acknowledged there had been inconsistencies with the state’s cost calculations in the past. But beginning in 2010, she said the department has revised calculations to directly compare each area of service — health care, utility costs, staffing.

“They don’t get to cherry-pick their inmates,” she said. “They have the exact same inmates there who were there when it was publicly operated.”

At this point, it’s unclear how many states will be interested in selling off prisons. Arizona, New Hampshire and Florida are considering privatizing the management of state prisons, but so far none have specifically broached the topic of a sale.

State corrections officials who were contacted in California, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Montana, Georgia, Texas, Illinois and New York all said they were not considering such prison sales at this time. In Illinois and New York, laws prohibit state inmates from being housed in private prisons, according to corrections officials.

FUENTE: THE HUFFINGTON POST

 

(Nota del 9/03/2012)

If you live in one of 48 states, right now there’s a proposal sitting on your governor’s desk from a company called Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). That for-profit corporation is offering to buy and run prisons across the nation. In exchange, states must agree to keep the prisons at least 90 percent full. Two articles in  USA Todayexamine the ethical concerns raised by the proposal. America already has a problem with mass incarceration, and handing over our prisons to corporations that profit from keeping them full will only make it worse — not to mention turn the priorities of the corrections system upside down. And, since private prisons thrive from keeping the bottom line low and their profits high, they have an incentive to cut corners — meaning lower-paid, less experienced staff and little accountability. The results can be troubling: in 2008, a study by the Idaho Department of Corrections found that the CCA-run Idaho Correctional Center (ICC) had four times as many prisoner-on-prisoner assaults as Idaho’s other seven prisons combined. In 2010, we filed a lawsuit challenging the culture of violence at ICC. More than 100 assaults were occurring every year at ICC, including this one captured on a video camera that occurred two months before our suit was filed, a brutal inmate-on-inmate beating as guards and staf company that runs that prison now stands ready to buy the prisons in your state, and to keep as many of your fellow citizens locked up as possible. A broad coalition including the ACLU, the Teamsters, the NAACP and several faith groups have already urged governors to reject the offer.

(Nota Junio del 2000)

US: America’s Private Gulag

by Ken Silverstein, Prison Legal News
June 1st, 2000

What is the most profitable industry in America? Weapons, oil and computer technology all offer high rates of return, but there is probably no sector of the economy so abloom with money as the privately run prison industry.

Consider the growth of the Corrections Corporation of America, the industry leader whose stock price has climbed from $8 a share in 1992 to about $30 today and whose revenue rose by 81 per cent in 1995 alone. Investors in Wackenhut Corrections Corp. have enjoyed an average return of 18 per cent during the past five years and the company is rated by Forbes as one of the top 200 small businesses in the country. At Esmor, another big private prison contractor, revenues have soared from $4.6 million in 1990 to more than $25 million in 1995.

Ten years ago there were just five privately-run prisons in the country, housing a population of 2,000. Today nearly a score of private firms run more than 100 prisons with about 62,000 beds. That’s still less than five per cent of the total market but the industry is expanding fast, with the number of private prison beds expected to grow to 360,000 during the next decade.

The exhilaration among leaders and observers of the private prison sector was cheerfully summed up by a headline in USA Today: “Everybody’s doin’ the jailhouse stock”. An equally upbeat mood imbued a conference on private prisons held last December at the Four Seasons Resort in Dallas. The brochure for the conference, organized by the World Research Group, a New York-based investment firm, called the corporate takeover of correctional facilities the “newest trend in the area of privatizing previously government-run programs… While arrests and convictions are steadily on the rise, profits are to be made — profits from crime. Get in on the ground floor of this booming industry now!”

A hundred years ago private prisons were a familiar feature of American life, with disastrous consequences. Prisoners were farmed out as slave labor. They were routinely beaten and abused, fed slop and kept in horribly overcrowded cells. Conditions were so wretched that by the end of the nineteenth century private prisons were outlawed in most states.

During the past decade, private prisons have made a comeback. Already 28 states have passed legislation making it legal for private contractors to run correctional facilities and many more states are expected to follow suit.

The reasons for the rapid expansion include the 1990’s free-market ideological fervor, large budget deficits for the federal and state governments and the discovery and creation of vast new reserves of “raw materials” — prisoners. The rate for most serious crimes has been dropping or stagnant for the past 15 years, but during the same period severe repeat offender provisions and a racist “get-tough” policy on drugs have helped push the US prison population up from 300,000 to around 1.5 million during the same period. This has produced a corresponding boom in prison construction and costs, with the federal government’s annual expenditures in the area, now $17 billion. In California, passage of the infamous “three strikes” bill will result in the construction of an additional 20 prisons during the next few years.

The private prison business is most entrenched at the state level but is expanding into the federal prison system as well. Last year Attorney General Janet Reno announced that five of seven new federal prisons being built will be run by the private sector. Almost all of the prisons run by private firms are low or medium security, but the companies are trying to break into the high-security field. They have also begun taking charge of management at INS detention centers, boot camps for juvenile offenders and substance abuse programs.

 

The Players

Roughly half of the industry is controlled by the Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America, which runs 46 penal institutions in 11 states. It took ten years for the company to reach 10,000 beds; it is now growing by that same number every year.

CCA’s chief competitor is Wackenhut, which was founded in 1954 by George Wackenhut, a former FBI official. Over the years its board and staff have included such veterans of the US national security state as Frank Carlucci, Bobby Ray Inman and William Casey, as well as Jorge Mas Canosa, leader of the fanatic Cuban American National Foundation. The company also provides security services to private corporations. It has provided strikebreakers at the Pittston mine strike in Kentucky, hired unlicensed investigators to ferret out whistle blowers at Alyeska, the company that controls the Alaskan Oil pipeline, and beaten anti-nuclear demonstrators at facilities it guards for the Department of Energy.

Esmor, the number three firm in the field, was founded only a few years ago and already operates ten corrections or detention facilities. The company’s board includes William Barrett, a director of Frederick’s of Hollywood, and company CEO James Slattery, whose previous experience was investing in and managing hotels.

US companies also have been expanding abroad. The big three have facilities in Australia, England and Puerto Rico and are now looking at opportunities in Europe, Canada, Brazil, Mexico and China.

 

Greasing the Wheels of Power to Keep Jails Full

To be profitable, private prison firms must ensure that prisons are not only built but also filled. Industry experts say a 90-95 per cent capacity rate is needed to guarantee the hefty rates of return needed to lure investors. Prudential Securities issued a wildly bullish report on CCA a few years ago but cautioned, “It takes time to bring inmate population levels up to where they cover costs. Low occupancy is a drag on profits.” Still, said the report, company earnings would be strong if CCA succeeded in ramp(ing) up population levels in its new facilities at an acceptable rate”.

“(There is a) basic philosophical problem when you begin turning over administration of prisons to people who have an interest in keeping people locked up” notes Jenni Gainsborough of the ACLU’s National Prison Project.

Private prison companies have also begun to push, even if discreetly, for the type of get-tough policies needed to ensure their continued growth. All the major firms in the field have hired big-time lobbyists. When it was seeking a contract to run a halfway house in New York City, Esmor hired a onetime aide to State Representative Edolphus Towns to lobby on its behalf. The aide succeeded in winning the contract and also the vote of his former boss, who had been an opponent of the project. In 1995, Wackenhut Chairman Tim Cole testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee to urge support for amendments to the Violent Crime Control Act — which subsequently passed — that authorized the expenditure of $10 billion to construct and repair state prisons.

CCA has been especially adept at expansion via political payoffs. The first prison the company managed was the Silverdale Workhouse in Hamilton County, Tennessee. After commissioner Bob Long voted to accept CCA’s bid for the project, the company awarded Long’s pest control firm a lucrative contract. When Long decided the time was right to quit public life, CCA hired him to lobby on its behalf. CCA has been a major financial supporter of Lamar Alexander, the former Tennessee governor and failed presidential candidate. In one of a number of sweetheart deals, Lamar’s wife, Honey Alexander, made more than $130,000 on a $5,000 investment in CCA. Tennessee Governor Ned McWherter is another CCA stockholder and is quoted in the company’s 1995 annual report as saying that “the federal government would be well served to privatize all of their corrections.”

In another ominous development, the revolving door between the public and private sector has led to the type of company boards that are typical of those found in the military-industrial complex. CCA co-founders were T. Don Hutto, an ex-corrections commissioner in Virginia, and Tom Beasley, a former chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party. A top company official is Michael Quinlan, once director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The board of Wackenhut is graced by a former Marine Corps commander, two retired Air Force generals and a former under secretary of the Air Force, as well as James Thompson, ex-governer of Illinois, Stuart Gerson, a former assistant US attorney general and Richard Staley, who previously worked with the INS.

 

Leaner and Meaner?

The companies that dominate the private prison business claim that they offer the taxpayers a bargain because they operate far more cheaply than do state firms. As one industry report put it, “CEOs of privatized companies… are leaner and more motivated than their public-sector counterparts.”

Because they are private firms that answer to shareholders, prison companies have been predictably vigorous in seeking ways to cut costs. In 1985, a private firm tried to site a prison on a toxic waste dump in Pennsylvania, which it had bought at the bargain rate of $1. Fortunately, that plan was rejected.

Many states pay private contractors a per diem rate, as low as $31 a prisoner in Texas. A federal investigation traced a 1994 riot at an Esmor immigration detention center to the company’s having skimped on food, building repairs and guard salaries. At an Esmor-run halfway house in Manhattan, inspectors turned up leaky plumbing, exposed electrical wires, vermin and inadequate food.

To rachet up profit margins, companies have cut corners on drug rehabilitation, counseling and literacy programs. In 1995, Wackenhut was investigated for diverting $700,000 intended for drug treatment programs at a Texas prison. In Florida the US Corrections Corporation was found to be in violation of a provision in its state contract that requires prisoners to be placed in meaningful work or educational assignments. The company had assigned 235 prisoners as dorm orderlies when no more than 48 were needed and enrollment in education programs was well below what the contract called for. Such incidents led a prisoner at a CCA facility in Tennessee to conclude, “There is something inherently sinister about making money from the incarceration of prisoners, and in putting CCA’s bottom line (money) before society’s bottom line (rehabilitation).”

The companies try to cut costs by offering less training and pay to staff. Almost all workers at state prisons get union-scale pay but salaries for private prison guards range from about $7 to $10 per hour. Of course the companies are anti-union. When workers attempted to organize at Tennessee’s South Central prison, CCA sent officials down from Nashville to quash the effort.

Poor pay and work conditions have led to huge turnover rates at private prisons. A report by the Florida auditor’s office found that turnover at the Gadsden Correctional Facility for women, run by the US Corrections Corporation, was ten times the rate at state prisons. Minutes from an administrative meeting at a CCA prison in Tennessee have the “chief” recorded as saying, “We all know that we have lots of new staff and are constantly in the training mode… Many employees (are) totally lost and have never worked in corrections.”

Private companies also try to nickel and dime prisoners in the effort to boost revenue. “Canteen prices are outrageous,” wrote a prisoner at the Gadsden facility in Florida. “(We) pay more for a pack of cigarettes than in the free world.” Neither do private firms provide prisoners with soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes or writing paper. One female prisoner at a CCA prison in New Mexico said: “The state gives five free postage paid envelopes per month to prisoners, nothing at CCA. State provides new coats, jeans, shirts, and underwear and replaces them as needed. CCA rarely buys new clothing and inmates are often issued tattered and stained clothing. Same goes of linens. Also ration toilet paper and paper towels. If you run out, too bad — 3 rolls every two weeks.”

 

Cashing in on Crime

In addition to the companies that directly manage America’s prisons, many other firms are getting a piece of the private prison action. American Express has invested millions of dollars in private prison construction in Oklahoma and General Electric has helped finance construction in Tennessee. Goldman Sachs & Co., Merrill Lynch, Smith Barney, among other Wall Street firms, have made huge sums by underwriting prison construction with the sale of tax exempt bonds, this now a thriving $2.3 billion industry.

Weapons manufacturers see both public and private prisons as a new outlet for “defense” technology, such as electronic bracelets and stun guns. Private transport companies have lucrative contracts to move prisoners within and across state lines; health care companies supply jails with doctors and nurses; food service firms provide prisoners with meals. High-tech firms are also moving into the field; the Que-Tel Corp. hopes for vigorous sales of its new system whereby prisoners are bar coded and guards carry scanners to monitor their movements. Phone companies such as AT&T chase after the enormously lucrative prison business.

About three-quarters of new admissions to American jails and prisons are now African-American and Hispanic men. This trend, combined with an increasingly privatized and profitable prison system run largely by whites, makes for what Jerome Miller, a former youth corrections officer in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, calls the emerging Gulag State.

Miller predicts that the Gulag State will be in place within 15 years. He expects three to five million people to be behind bars, including an absolute majority of African-American men. It’s comparable, he says, to the post-Civil War period, when authorities came to view the prison system as a cheaper, more efficient substitute for slavery. Of the state’s current approach to crime and law enforcement, Miller says, “The race card has changed the whole playing field. Because the prison system doesn’t affect a significant percentage of young white men we’ll increasingly see prisoners treated as commodities. For now the situation is a bit more benign than it was back in the nineteenth century but I’m not sure it will stay that way for long.”

This article originally appeared in CounterPunch, a Washington DC-based political newsletter.s n�0 yth���c�y prisoners are bar coded and guards carry scanners to monitor their movements. Phone companies such as AT&T chase after the enormously lucrative prison business.

 

About three-quarters of new admissions to American jails and prisons are now African-American and Hispanic men. This trend, combined with an increasingly privatized and profitable prison system run largely by whites, makes for what Jerome Miller, a former youth corrections officer in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, calls the emerging Gulag State.

Miller predicts that the Gulag State will be in place within 15 years. He expects three to five million people to be behind bars, including an absolute majority of African-American men. It’s comparable, he says, to the post-Civil War period, when authorities came to view the prison system as a cheaper, more efficient substitute for slavery. Of the state’s current approach to crime and law enforcement, Miller says, “The race card has changed the whole playing field. Because the prison system doesn’t affect a significant percentage of young white men we’ll increasingly see prisoners treated as commodities. For now the situation is a bit more benign than it was back in the nineteenth century but I’m not sure it will stay that way for long.”

This article originally appeared in CounterPunch, a Washington DC-based political newsletter.

 

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