Prisons and Profits? Can we have both?

It’s bitter sweet to be writing about prisons during the week that Gil Scott-Heron died. I believe that Gil did some time for possession of cocaine. That tells you so much about the current purpose of the incarceration industry. I guess there’s a good chance that with a record and prison time that Gil lost the right to vote. Think about that. The guy that wrote the television will not be televised could be disenfranchised. There it is. That is the purpose of the war on drugs. To disenfranchise a certain population. Dark skin have anything to do with it? I don’t know. You get to decide for yourself. But I do hope you will think about it.

Anyway, back to prisons and profits. If you want to have prisons in your society, a good purpose for a prison would be to rehabilitate folks. To give them skills that help in the world on the other side of the bars. Forget about punishment. We are likely to get plenty of punishment in this life, let’s work on opportunity, stability, value. Instead of creating a revolving door for throwaway people in the Prison/Justice Casino, how about we focus on a value-added system?

I am not dead set against profit. I understand that the profit motive, that style, fashion, all that stuff that powers the capitalist model, is like a natural force in the world. It’s like wind and tide. Fashion/desire/style is like human weather. Capture it and you can move things. But let’s make sure that profit is derived from the right things. I am ok with incentives that would turn a reasonable profit for a system that would create outcomes that the community desires.

So, in the case of the Justice and Prison system, if we are going to privatize the prisons and allow a profit to be made on the misery of incarceration, why not make profit contingent on good outcomes for the prisoner and the community?

How would you do that? It’s not that hard. Just think about this model:

* A for-profit prison would be paid a certain daily rate for incarceration of a prisoner.
* The for-profit prison would be paid a certain daily rate for a period after release of the prisoner
* The for-profit prison would be paid a bonus at one year after release for each prisoner who has not been arrested since release.
* The for-profit prison would be paid a bonus at one year after release for each prisoner who is employed
* The for-profit prison would be paid an even larger bonus at 5 years for each prisoner who has not been convicted of a felony crime since release.

That daily rate during incarceration would be flexible enough that the the prison could choose to help with vocational and living skills, maybe operate a vocational school and community college inside the joint. At the end of a sentence there would be a flexible release period where a private, for profit prison could decide to move a prisoner outside the walls into a supported system that would help with job placement and move the released prisoner toward a future that does not include more time inside the joint and moves the for-profit entity toward a profitable bonus payment for success in the form of a conviction-free future for the parolee and safer community.

Our current system creates throwaway people. There is a three strike system in effect in a lot of jurisdictions, but if you look at real opportunity, a single felony conviction may be sufficient to create the next two strikes. For lots of folks, it is a one strike, you’re out system.

People will say, wow, that sounds expensive. Where are we going to get the money for that? Declare a truce on the war on drugs. That’s where the money is currently going. Take the money from the war on drugs and spend it for drug treatment on request, and roll the balance into the prison-correction system. Let’s recycle folks who make a mistake back in to the productive community instead of targeting and disenfranchising certain populations and recycling those populations through a prison system that dehumanizes the prisoners and the jailers. Profit on misery is not a good thing.

Economics and Humanities: Public Services or Private Profits?

The Supremes gave orders to California to do something about the prison over-crowding recently. It was a split 5-4 decision as most controversial decisions will be from the current court because there are 4 strongly conservative ideological votes on the court (alito, roberts, scalia, thomas for those tracking the justices) one swing vote (kennedy) and four liberal ? votes (breyer, ginsburg, kagan and sotomayor). The court reflects the country these days.

This decision is really much ado about nothing. Like the Obama health care plan, tweaking the current prison system will keep bureaucrats busy, but these changes will not produce the significant change that is needed in these systems. With health care, it is clear that the for-profit health care system needs to be forced to compete head to head with Medicare for Everyone. Health care accounts for 17.6% of the national economy according to recent studies. That chunk of the economy is currently firmly in the “for profit” category and the folks enjoying the profits of health care are the industry captains, the chiefs and CEOs who control the economics and availability of care. They are not giving these profits up without a fight.

Vermont threw down the gauntlet and has enacted single payer medical care. California legislators have sent this kind of law to the governor twice and The Guvenator vetoed the legislation twice. Hey, CA, send the legislation to Governor Brown if you are serious about this. Anyway, the battle to focus the health care industry on health care instead of corporate profits is very interesting, but let’s get back to prison economics.

The situation with the prison industry is very similar to the health care industry situation. We are talking about systems that have relegated their primary mission (corrections or health care delivery) to a profit mission. Certain systems just don’t work as well in private industry as they do in a non-profit or public sector system. Think about fire departments. This country has experimented with for-profit fire departments and has generally decided that the profits of understaffing fire response does not work out well. Prisons could work for public safety, for prosperous communities if they were structured correctly. But let’s not kid ourselves, the prison system in place in the US is about social control, it is not about public safety.

Click on the photo

Look at the racial disparity of incarceration. Need to see a graphic?

I think the statistical evidence is clear that incarceration in the US is primarily about social control, it is not about public safety. That is the public policy foundation in this system. But the prison industry is also largely privatized by the Reagan revolution, the corporatization of the republic. If you need some particulars, look at these links:

There is another way. Coming next.

Sunday Roundup

I was wrong about the rightness of military action in Libya. Military action simply can’t remain defensive. Gaddafi’s son and three grandchildren were killed by a Nato strike. We are killing children. I get that Gaddafi has to be persuaded to release his powerful hold on Libya’s politics. The military approach only knows one way. Common Dreams has coverage.

When the only tool you own is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Well, there were children in this house that was targeted and struck by Nato bombs. I am reminded again that the pacifists are right. The May issue of Harpers has an interesting article by Nicholson Baker about pacifism and World War II (the good war example) and it is pretty persuasive.

Meanwhile – the mainstream media is turning on the radical right. Bob Schieffer called Trump a racist. Hm.. was that a hard call?

Common Dreams ran this cartoon that I think captures the situation.

NPR has spent the past decade trying to move to the right to appease the right winger ascendance, but you know, first they came for the blacks, and I said nothing because I wasn’t black, then they came for the gays, and I said nothing because I wasn’t gay, but now that the right-wingers are on the verge of cutting all funding to NPR and PBS, the systems have found their voice again. Boy, it’s a little late. You tossed folks like Bill Moyers off your network. Voices of dissent, voices of reason and compassion. No room for them. Like the Libyan attack story, some folks at the top of organizations simply can’t understand the complexity and nuance of the mission, they are simply bureaucrats who understanding programming, but can’t keep the values front and center.

So, the right-wingers have moved on from Barack’s birth certificate to his grades. Barack is no revolutionary. He is no socialist. He’s just a black guy in the white house. Some folks can’t stand the thought. I grew up in the segregated South. I have not forgotten what racism looks like.

McCain was born in Panama. Was that a problem when he ran for President?

George Romney, Mitt’s father, was born in Mexico. Was that a problem when he ran for President?

So, what is different about Barack Hussein Obama? Yes, that does not sound like an American name. The muslim-sounding middle name probably raises some racist thoughts, but I think it’s mainly skin color. We would like to think that we live in post-racial America. I don’t think that such a place exists.