Wednesday, May 2, 2012

On Privatized Prisons

One of the few legitimate uses of government power is for initiating the use of force. 
The government is supposed to have a monopoly on police, military action, courts and prisons. 

So, of course, that's what the government has been trying to outsource. 

(They want to educate our kids, control our lightbulb purchases, correct our diets, takeover the medical field, subsidize their campaign contributors, dominate insurance, regulate oil drilling, protect manufacturers from overseas competitors, prohibit recreational drug use, prevent me from purchasing some awesome fireworks, monopolize college education, prevent gays from marrying, hamstring the auto industry, inflate the money supply, rape the economy, run up our debts, and shoehorn their way into hundreds of thousands of other situations where they are totally incompetent.) 

But prisons?  One of the few things that really is their job?  That's what they're willing outsource. 

One of my employees has been recommending a blog called Grits For Breakfast.  Mr. Grits specializes in the failures of our justice system, and Lord Have Mercy, outsourced prisons have been one of failures.  There really are good reasons why the government should have a monopoly on initiating force. 

Here's Mr. Grits on an outfit called GEO, which runs some prisons in Mississippi:

In Mississippi, "the state's corrections commissioner on Friday said that [the GEO Group] would no longer operate three [private prison] facilities in the state, which held 4,000 inmates," NPR reported recently. Regrettably, Mississippi is seeking another contractor instead of taking their management in-house or downsizing youth facilities, as Texas has done.

Now to be clear, a state that, in the 21st century, voted 2-1 to keep the Confederate battle logo as part of its state flag (you don't really see it flying much in any of the come-to-Mississippi tourism commercials, do you?) doesn't really care what us Texans, DOJ, or anybody else thinks about them. They ousted Geo out of their own self interest, so as another of GEO's customers, Texas should naturally consider why.

The decision comes in the wake of legal setbacks for the company in federal court involving abuse allegations at a juvenile facility, though GEO insisted their departure is unrelated and adamantly denied the charges. Even so, "the judge's [March settlement] order ... said an investigation by the plaintiff's counsel 'uncovered pervasive violations of state and federal civil and criminal law and a wholesale lack of accountability by prison officials. For example, staff of the [facility] and those responsible for overseeing and supervising the youth engaged in sexual relationships with the youth; they exploited them by selling drugs in the facility; and the youth, 'handcuffed and defenseless[,] have been kicked, punched, and beaten all over their bodies.''"

To make matters worse,"Staff at the center failed consistently to report and investigate claims about excessive use of force, even though they witnessed many of the acts, the judge wrote. 'Given that the facility employs correctional staffers affiliated with gangs, no more can be expected.'" Finally, "The judge also noted a Justice Department report, which confirmed many of the allegations and said the state of Mississippi was 'deliberately indifferent' to the constitutional rights of the young inmates."

Whatever proximate cause anyone wants to attribute it to, when federal judges start saying things  like that about your government contract, it's understandable one might decide it's time to pack up and leave town!

Texas has closed many of its juvenile facilities and may soon end up closing the rest of them, shifting juvenile supervision wholly to the counties and more aggressive community-based programming. It's too bad Mississippi looks like it will continue  contracting management of these facilities instead of taking the opportuntiy to pull them in-house or, better, downsize. I'm not sure  just finding another profit-driven management contractor will solve the problems the judge chastised them over.

Related posts: From Texas Prison Bidness, "GEO Group subject of lawsuit in prison death at Central Texas detention center." Also, "GEO guard indicted for contraband at Val Verde Correctional Center."

The cartoon of a contractor whispering in the Mississippi governor's ear came from here.  The cartoon of the Statue Of Non-Liberty came from here.   The chart showing the prison population increasing, partly because of lobbying on the part of the prison industry, came from here.  The cartoon of the vicious cycle came from here. 

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