Taking It Off Here, Boss

It was such a perfect day that I headed over to Tallulah Falls to see if they were still standing. Ha, ha. I’m happy to report that they are, and as beautiful as ever. I recommend the drive, even if it is a bit off of the beaten path.

While in transit I noticed a prison road crew cleaning trash from the side of the road. That’s a sight we don’t see much of here anymore. Supposedly the movie, “Cool Hand Luke” shamed prison systems all over the country into better treatment of their prisoners, and all but banned road crews. Seeing a road crew now is a rarity, and it set my mind to wondering.

I am in favor of humane treatment of prisoners. I’m in favor of humane treatment of everybody, and just because you’re serving a “time out” doesn’t give the state the right to further abuse you. I’m glad we’ve moved from the times that have been shown so graphically in movies like “Cool Hand Luke” and “Brubaker”. Selling prison labor to private concerns was a fairly routing practice at one time, and the cause of punishment that was above and beyond what was required by the state. In my mind it’s one thing to be thrown into solitary confinement for fighting with another inmate, quite a different circumstance for not making your quota in the machine shop. Since there’s been a lack of books exposing the problem recently, I’m going to say that things are better with the privatization of prison labor.

What has not gotten better, is the privatization of the prisons themselves. I just this week saw a blurb about the state of Mississippi complaining that their jails weren’t full enough, and I thought “what the heck”? I started reading assorted articles on the internet to see what the source of Mississippi’s major malfunction was. I came across this little bone chiller: “Yet while providing security, housing, food, medical care, etc., for six million Americans is a hardship for cash-strapped states, to profit-hungry corporations such as Corrections Corp of America (CCA) and GEO Group, the leaders in the partnership corrections industry, it’s a $70 billion gold mine. Thus, with an eye toward increasing its bottom line, CCA has floated a proposal to prison officials in 48 states offering to buy and manage public prisons at a substantial cost savings to the states. In exchange, and here’s the kicker, the prisons would have to contain at least 1,000 beds and states would have agree to maintain a 90 percent occupancy rate in the privately run prisons for at least 20 years. ”

Okay, so I guess numbers jump out at me more than words. The first number I see is that the “locking people up business” is worth $70 billion dollars a year in the U.S. That’s a really big business. To me it seems like it would be a business better controlled by the people who are closer to it, the taxpayers. It’s kind of like handing over a trillion dollars to Ford Motors for government vehicles and saying, “we’re happy with whatever you come up with”. To continue the Ford analogy, Ford comes back with, “the cars have to seat 10 and you have to guarantee to buy ninety percent of our production for the next twenty years”. I think all of us can see where that just doesn’t make sense fiscally.

It also doesn’t make sense ethically. It places the burden for filling the prison beds on the court system, specifically the judges. In a case where a judge might have thought house arrest was an appropriate form of punishment for a particular offender, the judge would now be obligated to fill the prison bed. After all, the bed is already paid for. We’ve already seen where two judges in Pennsylvania were convicted of receiving a commission for every juvenile they sent to a privately run youth detention center.

It seems to me that we should working towards reducing the population in prison and increasing the populations of schools and libraries. Sounds simple, I know. But, if we’ve got $70 billion dollars just laying around waiting to be spent, why not spend it on education? A well educated society would be a really good replacement for a well incarcerated society. Let’s create tax payers, not tax takers.

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