There aren't many growth industries in this economy, but the U.S. has consistently churned out one commodity in record numbers since the 1970s: prison inmates. Thanks to the War on Drugs, corrections has transformed from a relatively modest component of state budgets to a resource hungry leviathan that cash-strapped legislatures are now struggling to control. In California, for example, prisons were 2% of the budget in 1980 but now consume a full 10% of every dollar the state takes in. Texas is now spending $6,000,000,000 annually on its carceral empire, nearly 8% of a state budget facing a $20 billion shortfall.

Given the high caliber of person serving in the average state legislature these days, it should come as no surprise that the proposed solution is the usual privatization-?????-PROFITS!!! shell game that looks suspiciously like taking a payday loan. It looks like that because the logic is exactly the same: the state gets a one-time cash payment now, signs a 20 year contract, and then spends far more than the short term infusion of cash to meet the terms of the contract. Most states – Louisiana, Minnesota, Florida, Virginia, on and on and on – have discovered that the proposed cost savings from prison privatization are an illusion, as the state ends up spending less on salaries and maintenance but far more on secondary costs like medical care and lawsuits. But who cares! We can get the cash today!

Private prison giant Corrections Corporation of America recently sent an offer to 48 states offering immediate cash payments in exchange for 20 year contracts on the state prison system. Some states will undoubtedly take them up on the offer, either falling for the promise of savings through "efficiency" or reasoning that the current crop of politicians will be long gone by the time the piper requests payment. The offer has an interesting caveat, though – CCA requires the states to guarantee 90% capacity in the prisons for the duration of the contract.

Several of my social networking site friends focused on the 90% requirement when commenting on this story. Predictably, most sane people are appalled at the idea of the state guaranteeing to incarcerate a minimum number of citizens every year. I understand the shock and disgust, but this requirement should be taken with a grain of salt. Every single state prison system in the country is currently operating at 97% capacity or higher according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics – in some cases much, much higher – and as recently as 2005 every single state was operating over capacity. We have been locking up so many people with such draconian sentences for the last 30 years that nothing short of blanket pardons for all non-violent offenders could bring inmate populations below 90% of capacity.

I understand why the idea of guaranteed inmate populations is jarring. The modern American correctional system is already such a disaster, though, that such guarantees are hardly necessary. It would be like the Arizona State Legislature signing a contract guaranteeing a set number of stupid, psychotic bills proposed per session; the implications for the democratic process are troubling, but the practical matter of hitting the target is a given.

25 thoughts on “BULL MARKET”

  • Sounds like Ron Paul with his loopy ideas about ending the WoD won't find himself many friends on Wall St. I've always hated this three card monte of privatisation, what a crock!

    How about cash incentives for judges to convict?

    As soon as we put a dollar value on justice, justice can no longer exist.

  • Middle Seaman says:

    We can solve the jails problem easily. Make most crimes capital. Public executions can charge admission further improving the prison's bottom line. Hell we can adment the constitution to force the above.

    Come to think a out it, do we need courts? Not really.

  • @middle: taking your idea further, and as we're pretty much in agreement we're in the last days of the Holy American Empire, with the death of St Ronnie, let's have gladiatorial events. We can have the prisoners re-enact all of our favourite battles. Imagine what a crowd pleaser Cowpens could be, with the smell of period piece artillery.

    Why stop there? We could even rewrite the battles. Imagine our rising victorious from the Battle of Wake Island. better yet the Alamo—Now with added Hispanic body count!

    I think we may have winner!

  • Pretty soon our economy will consist of locking up half the population and paying the other half to watch them.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    In many states, prisons have been the only growth industry, and in many areas, the only half-decent job available is as a Corrections Officer (CO).

    The Conservatives hate government, and in the past 30+ years, they have been proving it, by undermining it until it will eventually reach extinction/oblivion.
    On top of their lists have been the privatization of as many government functions as possible; and putting complete hacks and incompetents into important positions to f*ck things up as much as they can – think mining exec's placed into governmental regulatory positions overseeing mining, or, most famously, Michael "Heckuva Job!" Brown at FEMA.

    Privatizing, also gives legislators feather bed jobs to go to after they're either tired of legislating, or get their incompetent asses handed to them in an election.
    What, you thought the politicians didn't want some sort of payback for handing some company a license to steal taxpayer money?

    We have one of the highest rates of incarceration in the world. And one of the highest rates of recidivism (prisoners who return to prison after breaking parole, and/or committing another crime).

    We don't teach any/many usable skill while people are in prison – because, with privatization, there's no incentive!
    They're paid to keep people in – why try to train or educate them so they can get a job when they get out, when, if you don't bother, you're pretty much guaranteeing that they'll return and be a future source of revenue?

    Privatization of everything will continue until people realized that privatization is the greatest scam EVER perpetrated on the American public.

    It doesn't save money – in the long term, as Ed says, it costs MORE money to privatize what was once a governmental function.
    And that money to pay for everything comes from taxpayers, who once had people they could hold accountable (politicians who they could vote out) if things weren't working out.
    That money is now going into the unaccountable hands of private companies (frequently friends, relatives, and cronies, of the politicians), who vote for these the privatization – and those same politicians will now have a job to fall back on, as well as patronage jobs for other friends, relatives, and cronies. It's called "payback."

    Privatization means that the money comes out of YOUR pocket, and, instead of being spent to benefit YOU and others, now goes to line the pockets of the politicians and their corporate cronies.

    Privatization is the legalized mugging of tax payers.

    Privatization is for SUCKERS!

    And that's the way I describe the mis/under/un-informed people in this country, who consistently vote against their better interests, based on racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia, among other wedge issues.
    We are a nation of f*cking morons.

  • CUND Gulag: This is why when some Obamabot asks me "DO YOU WANT SOME CRAZY REPUBLICAN IN OFFICE," my answer is "Sure, why not?" After all, if Obama is in office Republicans will get what they want anyway, just with more drama.

    The problem is that there are too many people in the US with whom you can't reason- "By God whathisname is against abortion and I hate abortion which means I also agree with his economic theories! I'm gonna vote for him!" What is the solution? Starvation. They need to lose their job because the government cut their company's contract. They need to lose their farm subsidies(fat chance though, because neo-liberals don't take the free market THAT seriously), medicare must end, the social security check needs to stop coming. In short, they must face the consequences of being willfully ignorant, of letting disc-jockeys educate them on political and economic matters.

    When you have a democrat in office these jerkoffs always have a way out. They can blame the Democrat even while he enacts the same policies as their Republican heroes. So let them have their Republicans, let them choke. May their God have mercy on them, because I sure won't.

  • Whether or not the states currently surpass the incarceration target is irrelevant, Ed. There is a WORLD of difference — moral, ethical, and otherwise — between "happening to keep the prisons 90%+ full" and "being required by contract to find a way to keep the prisons 90%+ full".

    One of those involves circumstance. It so happens that the state's current rate of incarceration due to enforcing existing laws exceeds that amount.

    The other involves Evil. The state, failing to meet its incarceration quota this year, must invent ways to imprison more citizens or face financial penalty. I do not use the word 'evil' here lightly, I mean actual, moral Evil.

    The purpose of the penal system should be to discourage crime. Under proper government operation, the ideal end goal would be prisons that are empty, because no more crime is being commited. Under private operation, the opposite is true. The ideal end goal would be prisons that are eternally full, because enough crim is being commited to be profitable.

    One of these methods encourages a decrease in the crime rate. The other encourages an increase in the crime rate.

    It is a uniquely American condition to prefer the latter, in the name of the dollar.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    We Liberals won't be around to have mercy on the Conservative Dominionist Fascists who'll gain power.

    If they have their way, their first acts, after gaining power, will be to make Liberalism akin to Satanism – punishable by life imprisonment in a "gulag," or death.

    They'll want to make sure that if the ignorant rubes ever do wake up, they'll have no one to turn to.
    And besides, every bad thing that happens will be blamed on us.

    While the rest of us consider "The Handmaid's Tale," a cautionary novel, the Conservatives in this country are looking at it as an instructional manual.

    Am I being hyperbolic?
    You folks decide…

  • Quick note: The 90% guarantee does one thing very bad. It highly disincentivizes state governments from doing the otherwise logical thing and decriminalizing marijuana and other certain recreational drugs. Just when we're reaching a critical mass of the population who thing the war on drugs is a costly failure, private corrections companies jump in to make legalization costly as well.

  • hell, we already support a criminal system. the working people pay for the Rich and the Poor. Slavery in just another incarnation.

    what amazes me is the smirk and self gratification of putting those "Bad Guys" in prison forever look on these kind of loonies. Having to pay for these people in prison for the REST of their lives, whether by welfare/SSI cause private business wont hire felons, or having to put these people back in jail cause they can't find a way to "mesh" back into society.

    our Society is so on the "short fix". and Prisons are just a symbol of this failure to value each and every member of the society. there are costs to "throwing" away so called value "less" people. there are some really bad people worth jailing and executing, but destroying others for "fun and Profit" destroyed the rest of society.

    like working people, not the Rich or Poor, don't already pay for the whole Slavery/Plantation we have now.

    the stupidity of the average American is just an amazing sign of the American Empire and how well these idiots, not just Southern Redneck, though they deserve special "focus", have led America to destruction.

    Bread and Circuses American style.

  • The fact that jails are currently more than 97% full now is not a great argument for committing to keep them more than 90% full for the next 20 years.

    What this means is that future legislators will not be able to pass laws with less draconian sentences, or remove stupid laws like the drug laws, because it might result in the prison population falling off.

    It is an indirect corruption of the future law making process.

  • When you get a large group of people in a small area, you get crime. When you get crime, you get idiots who think the solution is to lock up half the population in criminal training camps. When those idiots get political power, you get an incarceration industrial complex.

    I'd love to blame it all on the WOD, but I think if the Paul Administration ended it tomorrow, prison profiteers and their useful-idiot NIMBYs would find another way.

    A blanket pardon for non-violent offenders isn't as unthinkable as one might think – Mayor Villaraigosa talks about it occasionally, during off-election years. But right now there's just too much scrilla to be made warehousing minorities in Sociopathy U.

  • Don't forget that little or no access to mental health care means that our prisons end up being psychiatric hospitals. If psych care is available in their jail, most prisoners get better psych care in jail than on the streets. This results in them re-offending once released because they can't get their head straight on the streets without mental health care. If we spent even a fraction of the money we spend on jails on providing mental health care to our citizens, we wouldn't have nearly the jail population we have now. It's a sad, sad state of affairs.

    Also, as others have pointed out, that 90% guaranteed capacity will lead to some really stupid shit. Like not allowing non-violent offenders to be on house-arrest (with monitoring bracelet). Or Judges not being able to opt to sentence drug offenders to treatment instead of jail. Or a cop being forced to arrest someone they find with an ounce or less of dope on them.

  • "We Liberals won't be around to have mercy on the Conservative Dominionist Fascists who'll gain power."

    Don't worry, we Communists will avenge you when we take out those fascists like it was 1945 all over again. I'm guessing this will be even easier than the Germans, since the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS was in far better physical condition than your average Tea Party militia member.

  • @motrha:
    We're puritans, dude. Mental illness is a weakness of will at best and could also be demonic possession.

  • If the tea partiers ever read the new testament, how in EXPLETIVE do they square that with their politics?

  • Yes, during tough economic times the imprisonment biz is a growth industry. And with that in mind, I'm wondering whether accepting this offer, states would be setting any limits on expanding capacity. I doubt it. In other words, if CCA wants to build a couple of new wings on their new property, I'm guessing the state guarantee of occupancy applies.

  • XYNZEE: Cash incentives for convicting already happened. Look up "Cash for Kids" scandal in Scranton, PA.

    The local kiddy detention center is run by a private company. They were bribing judges to sentence children- CHILDREN- to time in the facility to up their profits.

    Thousands of children's lives ruined because Free Market- Fuck Yeah!

  • Also too, think about exploitation of cheap prisoner labor. If they are allowed to expand industrial activities in prisons, we are in danger of selective prosecution and inexplicably draconian sentences for certain desired specialists.

  • @Arslan

    "I'm guessing this will be even easier than the Germans, since the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS was in far better physical condition than your average Tea Party militia member."

    Maybe this time?

    The Imperial Japanese Empire's high command (with the exception of Yamamoto) and certainly Mr. Hitler had your view circa 1940.

    You live in Russia, don't you? Will you be making a return for the 'Turkey Shoot' ?


  • I say we take a page from the teacher union-busting handbook and require them to reduce recividism rates every year or face a failing grade and possible tremination of the contract.

    Like that will ever happen.

  • @Tim H: "If the tea partiers ever read the new testament, how in EXPLETIVE do they square that with their politics?"

    As if the average teahadi can READ. They rely on their megachurches to tell them what to believe, and the only relation Jeebus has to that is that he's nailed to the wall as an example of what happens to dirty commies.

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