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.
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.