Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cutting Off the Nose to Spite the Face

Governor Rick Scott of Florida has promised to find $1 billion worth of savings in his state's corrections budget over the next seven years. Florida has the third-highest prison population in the country, attributable to many of the same maladies that plague other systems; too-strict sentencing laws, lack of judicial discretion, and, maybe most importantly, failure to prepare prisoners to return to society as healthy, productive citizens. So what does the governor hope to do? Privatize more prisons and healthcare services to save the money.

I guess the fact that prisoners coming from private prisons have higher rates of recidivism and recieve less programming wasn't really important to him. But I can't blame him; it's typical conservative ideology to want to privatize everything, even if privatizing is neither the efficient nor effective solution. In reality, it's all about steering contracts to companies that have established strong relationships with conservative politicians, not helping prisoners or saving money. Due to the overriding profit motive inherent in privatization, prisoners and the services they receive will suffer, and Floridians will in the long run, too.


  1. Interesting view, I guess you would rather the state or federal government "maintain" the prison system as they have for decades? And this has been working in your opinion? Try and remember when ranting that if these citizens would have made better decisions prior to becoming prisoners, this would not be as significant problem as it is today. Perhaps we should spend more time educating people instead of labeling them as the victim.

  2. Well that's a complicated question. First and foremost, we have far too many people in prison, both for the capacity governments have and in terms of principle. Slightly more than 50% of prisoners in the federal BOP are incarcerated for drug offenses; the numbers are slightly lower in many states, but usually close to 30-50% of state systems' populations are comprised of drug offenders. Aside from the moral issue of criminalizing drug use, these folks would be better served by community-based alternatives, which cost far less money. We have by far the highest incarceration rate in the world, and the most prisoners in real numbers. There are 1 million more people currently incarcerated in this country than in China. Yet crime has been declining over the past few years and the slight raises in crime rates we've had in our history don't even come close to lining up with our rates of incarceration.

    So I mean to say we have far too many people in prison, for reasons often unrelated to any real threat to the public well-being. We need to reduce the prison population in pretty much every single state in the country, not to mention the federal BOP, which was operating at over 160% of its capacity as of 2008. So it's not as cut-and-dry as "people should make better decisions." For reasons I won't get into right now for the sake of brevity (basically, the prison-industrial complex), our nation and its leaders have for too long been blind or indifferent to real corrections reform, which is what truly needs to take place.

    However, in reality, there are a ton of prisoners who need somewhere to be. Studies have repeatedly shown, since the initial rise of modern private prisons in the 80's (meaning for-profit, with a big emphasis on profit) that private prisons are less secure, less safe for both prisoners and staff, and don't even actually save any money over government operation. They pay and train their staff less, leading to higher turnover and higher rates of assault and escapes from private prisons, despite the fact that they are able to cherry-pick prisoners per the contractual agreements they sign with states, and primarily house low-level, nonviolent offenders (so they should, in theory, have much lower rates of both). And that's not to mention the cost cutting in terms of maintenance, sanitation, and medical care.

    Federal and state governments simply operate prisons safer and more humanely than private companies, almost without exception. Without the overriding profit motive inherent to the private sector, prisoners have access to better medical care, programming and classes to help them return to society, which is important because most of them will be released one day.

    But to address your final point, yes we also do need to have much better education in this country. It's obvious how a poor education coincides with criminal activity, and that is unfortunately, in my opinion, another symptom of a country that has neglected much of its infrastructure and social welfare for far too long. Our country's prosperity was aided by a strong public education system, which at the time was only really available to whites. Nowadays any semblance of a good education can only really be found in affluent areas, while less privileged areas (primarily a minority population) suffer for a lack of resources.

    If you ask me, they're all victims. We all are, really. We're all victims of the domination of the wealthy class, which becomes stronger yet more shrouded every day.