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.