Saturday, August 25, 2007

Privatizing Prisons

Last Friday I posted on California's boneheaded decision on where to place a new prison. In the state's rush to avoid any penalties from a federal law suit dealing with prison overcrowding, California decided to build its new prisons in areas rife with Valley Fever spores. An article in yesterday's Los Angeles Times indicates the state has found another way to ease prison crowding. California has decided to outsource a state function by shipping the inmates to private prisons in other states.

Depending on the outcome of legal challenges, California could be "one of the longtime drivers of growth for the private prison industry," industry analyst Kevin Campbell said.

Until December, the state had not put a medium- or maximum-security prisoner in a private lockup since 1852, when it replaced a private prison ship in San Francisco Bay with California's first public prison, San Quentin.

Private companies say they can build secure prisons faster and cheaper than state governments and are not saddled with the high salaries and pension costs paid by public agencies. ...

The search to find more room for California prisoners -- and pressure from federal judges -- led to a $7.4-billion plan proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and approved by lawmakers in April. It gave the private prison companies the opening they've long sought.

For decades, these companies attempted to win contracts to house convicts in privately owned or leased in-state prisons, only to see their efforts thwarted by the wealthy, politically influential California prison guards union. ...

California is one of at least 30 states that have turned to the private prison industry for help after realizing that they couldn't build enough prisons to keep pace with a flood of new inmates as lawmakers passed ever-tougher sentencing laws.

Over the last decade, the number of inmate beds in private prisons has jumped sixfold to about 112,000 in mid-2006, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Most of the growth was at three major operators -- Corrections Corp., Boca Raton, Fla.-based Geo Group and Houston-based Cornell Cos.

As a result of the push to use private prisons, those three operators have seen their stocks rise dramatically, thereby making prison operation one of the few economic sectors enjoying a boom. And that boom will continue as long as states keep increasing sentences for such nonviolent crimes as drug use and keep coming up with such creative solutions for recidivism as "three-strike" laws.

The problem is that by outsourcing the government function, the state doesn't have much of an oversight into conditions at the private prisons, which means more law suits and more penalties.

I'm beginning to think this yet another example of an Alice In Wonderland tea party.

"Clean cups! Clean cups!"

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Blogger WGG, Rogue Scholar & Tokin Lib'rul said...

I think it's a GREAT idea, diane.
if you can kill off a big enopugh fraction of your prison population by situating a big prison in a sump of diease and death, it'll keep the maintenance costs way down.

11:12 AM  

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