Prisonization 

Do private goals really answer public needs?

I want to thank--and need to credit--one of our valley neighbors, H.C., for inspiring me to address the question of corporate-operated prisons versus state-run prisons. Because I wish to bring him no grief in any way, I won't divulge H.C.'s full name. I don't like to scatter private citizens' identities throughout this page as though I was applying weed&feed to my lawn, not unless they have said or done something notably stupid or notably jerksome in a public way.

H.C. did nothing stupid or jerksome to bring him to my attention. To the contrary, he published in the other newspaper in town a smart and deftly written opinion--something you don't often see on the letters to the editor page of any newspaper--arguing it is high time the state of Idaho takes back in full the function of operating our state prison system.

I couldn't agree with him more. Truth is, the privatization of our prisons was a screwed idea from the beginning, and has gotten nothing but screwier over time.

What's more, it fits the overall pattern of fraud, felony, fabrication and failure that have marked the privatization of traditional government functions from the day corporate pirates commandeered Ronald Reagan's brain and steered that leaky vessel into the shallow shoals of laissez faire ideology.

Think about it: Are our wars any cheaper now that Dick Cheney's old Halliburton cronies are feeding and housing the troops? Do those wars seem any shorter, efficient, more humane or less wasteful now that we've contracted the likes of Blackwater and various other mercenary outfits to assume much of the collateral military operations? Has our nation become more secure now that we know many intelligence duties have been handed over to the sort of private enterprise that hires a man like Edward Snowden? 

Has Canyon County, by farming prosecutorial work out to system gamers like John Bujak, expedited any court proceedings or saved the taxpayers any money? Are our highways, our sewer systems, our bridges and our dams any better since we began handing the infrastructure work over to the lowest bidder?

In short, are we, our America, now in tip-top order? Is our middle class moving on up and prospects for our poor getting brighter? Are our wages keeping up with what it costs to feed, house and clothe our families? Are our kids smarter and our health healthier? Does our vote still count and does our opinion still matter since we allowed the idolaters of Ronald Reagan to take over what had before been government work?

But perhaps I've spread my message out too thin here. Let us gather in our focus and turn it back to Idaho's prison situation.

As maybe you've heard, the Idaho Board of Correction announced that Corrections Corporation of America has been ushered out to the parking lot and invited to leave Idaho. In a way, it's too bad. There is reason enough in my mind to believe that instead of simply terminating CCA's contract and sending it on its way, this Nashville, Tenn.-based mob should be escorted directly from the warden's office to an 8-by-10 cell in which it would sweat it out--bail denied!--until its guilt was established in a court of law.

In lawsuit after lawsuit, brought by inmates who had no other recourse to defend themselves against CCA's policy to run Idaho's biggest prison like a Mad Max movie, the corporate goons have been accused of using gang violence as a substitute for adequate staffing and professional supervision. Evidently, allowing inmates to be beaten into comas is better for the stockholders than hiring enough qualified guards to effectively control the population.

Currently, CCA is under investigation for over-billing and falsifying records. It will probably never be known exactly how badly Idaho taxpayers have been mugged by these thugs in suits, but in spite of our fervent wishes that crime doesn't pay, it is unlikely any of them will see the inside of that cell I mentioned earlier.

Yet, despite the dismal experience that prison privatization has given Idaho--and as it's turning out, several other states unfortunate enough to have partnershipped with CCA, including Texas and Mississippi--the Board of Correction insists it will not return to the ways that served Idaho rather well up until 2000, when CCA was awarded the contract.

Again, we thank H.C. for singling out the board's chairwoman, Robin Sandy--a political appointee, wouldn't you know--who refuses to consider letting the state do a proper state's job, as it would "amount to expanding state government."

Evidently, as the astute H.C. points out, Sandy would rather Idaho tax dollars go to settle lawsuits and bloat the compensation packages of out-of-state CEOs. Reagan would be proud.

But let us put aside until another time the real reasons the Republican oligarchy favors privatization over government agency--the subjugation of workers, the unholy marriage of political leaders with business interests, the opportunities for unlimited corruption--all those elements that add up to all power and all wealth being sucked upwards.

As to the matter of whether privatized prisons is a good idea, we need to ask only one question: Why would an enterprise that profits from a steady and dependable crop of inmates, that can grow its bottom line only with more and more incarceration, ever involve itself too energetically in rehabilitating those inmates, or even in stemming the criminal behavior which brings such cash cows in prison scrubs back and back and back?

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