Pack ‘em and stack ‘em: Maximizing shareholder equity in the Prison Industrial Complex
I spent nearly a decade working inside the criminal justice system, as a paralegal in a law practice that did a lot of work with juvenile offenders. I saw up front and personal how easy it is was for mixed up, hormonally crazed teenagers to mess up their lives, whether through natural rebellious instincts, peer pressure, or just making stupid decisions in general. God knows I made a few myself during what turned out to be an extended bout with aggravated puberty. But with one very minor exception, I was able to avoid the long arm of the law.
A year after I left that line of work, the young teenage son of my new lady friend got into legal trouble. She was at her wits end trying to convince him to change his behavior. So I did a little casual intervention. After I let him relate his side of the story, I chuckled (for effect), and related my recent work history. I told him how it was kids like him that made the adults in the criminal justice system happy as pigs in shit. He was their meal ticket, helped pay off their mortgages, fund their vacations and retirements. He glared at me at first, then a light slowly went off in his head. (Perhaps the image of one of his adult tormentors sunning on a beach in Maui sipping an umbrella drink helped lay down some new neural pathways in his young, still chaotically developing brain.) Shortly after that, he seemed to straighten out. He joined the military, where if he didn’t get his ass killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, probably learned a requisite amount of discipline and parlayed his service into a college education and a decent paying job.
Moral of the story: There be gold in them thar hills, in the slave mines of the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC). The juvenile justice system is but one rich vein to exploit. More on that particular profit center in a moment. But first, an overview. Consider the fortunes, and the business model, of perhaps the largest player in the PIC, Corrections Corporation of America. The following article zooms in on another key key revenue stream of the PIC, illegal immigration.
From ThinkProgress: Nearly half of all immigrants detained by federal officials are held in facilities run by private prison companies, at an average cost for each detained immigrant is $166 a night. That’s added up to massive profits for Corrections Corporation of America, The GEO Group and other private prison companies:
A decade ago, more than 3,300 criminal immigrants were sent to private prisons under two 10-year contracts the Federal Bureau of Prisons signed with CCA worth $760 million. Now, the agency is paying the private companies $5.1 billion to hold more than 23,000 criminal immigrants through 13 contracts of varying lengths. CCA was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2000 due to lawsuits, management problems and dwindling contracts. Last year, the company reaped $162 million in net income. Federal contracts made up 43 percent of its total revenues, in part thanks to rising immigrant detention. GEO, which cites the immigration agency as its largest client, saw its net income jump from $16.9 million to $78.6 million since 2000.
Just how did CCA effect such a dramatic turnaround? In a word, lobbying. Not just for specific contracts, but against immigration reform as a whole:
As the AP explains, these remarkable profits come in the wake of an equally remarkable lobbying campaign. In the past decade, three major private prison companies spent $45 million on campaign donations and lobbyists to push legislation at the state and federal level. At times, this money has gone to truly nefarious legislation. A 2011 report found that the private prison industry spent millions seeking to increase sentences and incarcerate more people in order to increase the industry’s profits. 30 of the 36 legislators who co-sponsored Arizona’s now mostly invalidated immigration law — which would have landed many more people in detention — received campaign contributions from private prison lobbyists or companies, including CCA and GEO. According to a report released last year, CCA spent over $900,000 on federal lobbying and GEO spent between $120,000 to $199,992 in Florida alone during a short three-month span in 2011. $450,000 went to the Republican national and congressional committees, while Democrats received less than half that number. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) were also among the private prison lobby’s top benefactors.
Another major profit center for the PIC is illegal drugs. Given that the US has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world, some 2.3 million people (quadruple the amount from when Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980, with the proportion of federal inmates rising nearly 800% during that time); and given that some 22% are drug related, that’s a half million potential customers for the rapidly growing PIC. Breaking down the numbers reveal some salient sociological facts: 70% of the prison population are non-white; 80% of the drug related incarcerations are recreational users, i.e., not violent dealers; and an amazing 3.1% of the resident adult population are either incarcerated, on parole, or probation. (ibid)
Wanna bet where the PIC stands on legalizing drugs? On mandatory sentencing, three strike laws, and the like?
What really raises my ire, though, are not just the raw number of juveniles in detention, 71,000 as of 2010. But the immoral cogs of the system that puts them there. Consider the case of former Pennsylvania juvenile justice judge, Mark Ciavarella Jr. Judge Ciavarella earned himself a 28 year prison sentence recently for taking a million buckeroos from juvie prison developers for making sure their beds were filled. But Ciavarella is just the tip of a very big iceberg.
Public School Enlists Controversial Private Prison Firm To Conduct Drug Raids
The nation’s largest private prison corporation appears to be playing a part in drug raids at some Arizona public schools, PRWatch reports. On October 31, Vista Grande High School in Case Grande, Arizona had its first drug raid in the school’s four-year history. Three students were arrested for marijuana possession, and if one is charged with a felony, she could face prison. One of the four parties involved was Corrections Corporation of America, which operates private prison facilities notorious for poor treatment and violations. Neither the Police Department Public Information Officer nor the high school’s principal saw a problem with the company’s participation:
According to Casa Grande Police Department (CGPD) Public Information Officer Thomas Anderson, four “law enforcement agencies” took part in the operation: CGPD (which served as the lead agency and operation coordinator), the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Gila River Indian Community Police Department, and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). It is the involvement of CCA — the nation’s largest private, for-profit prison corporation — that causes this high school “drug sweep” to stand out as unusual; CCA is not, despite CGPD’s evident opinion to the contrary, a law enforcement agency. [...]
IOW, CCA, with able assistance of the state, is trolling for clients. Should make their stockholders happy, at least.
But it isn’t all smooth sailing for CCA and its corporate ilk. In an era of shrinking state government budgets, many states are rethinking the cost of incarcerating so many individuals. They are looking at revising sentencing laws and to increased extra-confinement supervision. This has caused something of a panic in the PIC. A Wall Street darling with access to the shrewdest investment banksters on the planet, CCA is meeting this threat to its business model by proposing to spend a quarter billion dollars buying up existing prison facilities in 48 states, promising to take the whole mess off the hands of state governors and legislatures. However, there’s a catch. Call it Catch-90. In order to maintain a comfortable profit margin, CCA is insisting that the states guarantee a steady customer flow. That is, the state must promise a conviction and confinement rate equal to at least a 90% of capacity of the prisons they buy. How’s that for capitalist ingenuity?
These people are making penal systems like Russia’s and China’s look almost liberal by comparison. Replace authoritarian, communist ideology with the capitalist maxim of maximizing shareholder equity and you are well on the way to producing many of the same immoral results. The whole notion of rehabilitation becomes an impediment to the bottom line, replaced by overriding concerns like return on investment and the salvage value of wasting assets.
How long will it be before we see captive legislators passing laws authorizing the outsourcing of slave wage prison labor? And when they wear out, the sale of their organs on the lucrative transplant market, their carcasses repurposed and marketed to the survivalist crowd as Soylent Green Energy Bars?
Where the hell is Philip Kindred Dick when we need him?
He transcribed what thoughts he could into an eight-thousand-page, one-million-word journal dubbed the Exegesis. From 1974 until his death in 1982, Dick spent many nights writing in this journal. A recurring theme in Exegesis is Dick’s hypothesis that history had been stopped in the 1st century AD., and that “the Empire never ended”. He saw Rome as the pinnacle of materialism and despotism, which, after forcing the Gnostics underground, had kept the population of Earth enslaved to worldly possessions.