One of my pet peeves is the ongoing effort in this country to privatize aspects of the state’s inherent powers such as the responsibility to educate or to punish the convicted. There is an ongoing assault by private corporations to take over these government responsibilities in order to use them as profit centers. The Charter School movement is a great example of this trend. I won’t dwell on it here, since others are much more informed about it than I. I will say that I oppose allowing private schools to be funded with public monies. Likewise, I vehemently oppose the privatizing of prisons and for similar reasons.
For-profit corporations don’t see people as people, they represent a profit or a loss. To private prison operators, the more bodies, the more they make. There is an economy of scale, dontchaknow. Many on the right will say that the government is not accountable enough. And in some cases I would agree. But we do have a peaceful ultimate recourse (voting, which we use to infrequently IMHO) and there are legal mechanisms (recalls, constitutional legal challenges, etc) that we, the people, can use. With government we can and do institutionalize our morality, a conscience of a sort. For example, we have food stamps because at one time the people of this country felt that it was only we should help feed the hungry (although that value may be waning, see my post from yesterday).
So we DO legislate and then implement our values in our governmental structures and processes. A corporation organizes as it sees fit. It creates it’s own mission statement, goals and vision. A government is created to provide services to the citizens of said government. A corporation is created to provide profit for it’s shareholders. Those are VASTLY different reasons for being and it affects not only WHO the stakeholders actually are but also how they and non-stakeholders are treated. Corporations have no conscience and only the government, if and when it’s forced through enormous pressure, can force the country’s conscience on them. And you see how well THAT worked with the banks and executives that crashed our economy recently.
All this is on my mind because U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has announced and is implementing mandatory minimum sentencing reform that will drastically reduce the number of people that get sent to prison. Under these reforms, people currently charged with certain drug offenses will no longer be sent to federal prisons (this is a simplification of the policy but you get the gist). You may or may not know this but there has been in US sentencing a massive disparity between how the law treated Crack Cocaine versus powder cocaine–on the order of 100 to 1. In other words, a person with a small amount of Crack would be sentenced the same as someone who had a buttload of Cocaine. Why was this a problem? Because the powdered stuff is more expensive and is more likely to be used by the upper economic classes. Crack, cheap and plentiful, was most likely to be used by the lower economic classes. And since race is still very much tied to economic class, these laws drastically affected minority communities. The African American community has been decimated by such laws. If we had, instead, allowed such people to go into supervised release instead of prison, their ability to earn for their family would have been a real possibility. Instead we took generations of young men and threw them into prison to rot and fester. Nothing makes a man into a criminal faster than incarceration will. Believe me, I’ve seen it happen before my very eyes.
Of course, the right opposes these reforms because they believe everyone and anyone that has broken the law should go to prison. Unfortunately, the fact that there are too many potheads taking up bed space so that the pedophiles are given community probation instead never seems to catch up with them come election time. And believe me, this kind of thing has been happening for decades. Violent thugs and child molesters were and are being given alternative sentences because the drug war with its mandatory minimum and three strikes laws filled up and overflowed both state and federal prisons. We still have the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Higher than communist China, plutocratic/oligarchic Russia, free-for-all Somalia, etc, etc, etc. And we’re supposed to be the land of the free…pshaw.
In the meantime, while pushing for stricter and stricter laws, the same politicians have been calling for lower and lower taxes. Exactly how we were supposed to pay for our behemoth of a corrections system, never seems to have occurred to them or the voters. The light bulb never goes on for voters because they share a similar malady with conservative politicians called cognitive dissonance. What the voters don’t usually see is what is going on behind the curtain. There is a wizard and he has an agenda.
Funding the movement for lower taxes and higher imprisonment rates is the private prison industry. Players like the Corrections Corporation of America, PRIDE (a FL company), ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council)*, the Koch Foundation**, etc make sure that their agenda is pushed at the state and local level and that they blanket the media with their own marketing spin so that the opposing voices like mine are never heard. It’s why you may not know that private prisons are booming and that the U.S. has a national slave labor force that fulfills your online shopping orders, sews the jeans that make your ass look oh so good, and processes the chicken patties that your child eats in school cafeteria. The chain gangs of yesteryear were child’s play compared to what is going on now. The cheap labor provided by inmates drives down wages for those of us on the outside. How long before people in large numbers decide that being incarcerated is better than trying to make it in our supposed free market paradise? Maybe after the next Great Recession/Depression?
It boils down to this….incentivizing the loss of liberty is incentivizing tyranny. Except now we don’t have to fear that the government will be the force that puts the chains on us. It will be the private corporations beholden only to shareholders and owners. They’ve seized the mainstream media and are busy waving red flags about guns and the scary brown immigrants in front of the voters while they pick our pockets and enslave us. We need to keep our eye on the ball, people, otherwise Workhouses will be the new gray***.
from Matt Davies at GoComics.com
*This is a conservative group that drafts state-level legislation for laws opposing abortion, supporting mandatory minimum sentencing laws, supporting three strikes laws, preventing wage increases, criminalizing immigrants (SB1070), laws allowing for private prisons and profiting off of prisoner labor, loosening gun control regulation, etc. They give these drafts to lawmakers in the various states and they in turn use those drafts to formulate policy–many of the laws are passed verbatim as originally written. This group is behind the many execrable laws passed in recent years to include forced ultrasounds against a pregnant woman’s wishes, union busting efforts, attempts to enact personhood for fetuses, eliminating conceal carry permits, etc. This is the group that is making our laws–not our legislators–and they do so based on their conservative agenda. Their perspective has nothing to do with the constituents of the said state….which is what our legislators are supposed to listen to and represent.
**This foundation formed by Koch brothers to push their extreme conservative agenda on the rest of the US. The two brothers own the second largest private corporation in the country. If you want to know who is behind the conservative juggernaut that has hijacked this country, follow the money to these two billionaires.
***I’m sure they’ll pick a new Orwellian name for it, like “insource vacationing”–the new way to have a staycation that lasts forever.