The default position

Matt Stoller on how the prison industry just wants you in jail:

More than a third of all states allow debtors “who can’t or won’t pay their debts” to be jailed. In 2010, according to the Wall Street Journal, judges have issued 5,000 such warrants. What is behind the increased pressure to incarcerate people with debts? Is it a desire to force debt payment? Or is it part of a new structure where incarceration is becoming increasingly the default tool to address any and all social problems?

Consider a different example that has nothing to do with debts. Earlier this year, a Pennsylvania judge was convicted of racketeering, of taking bribes from parties of interest in his cases. It was a fairly routine case of bribery, with one significant exception. The party making the payoffs was a builder and operator of youth prisons, and the judge was rewarding him by sending lots of kids to his prisons.

Welcome to the for-profit prison industry. It’s an industry that wants people in jail, because jail is their product. And they have shareholder expectations to meet.

Privatized prisons are marketed to international investors as “social infrastructure”, and they are part of a wave of privatization washing over the globe. Multi-billion dollar prison companies are upgraded by analysts with antiseptic words like “prospects for global prison growth”, and these companies have built a revolving door and patronage machine characteristic of any government contractor. Only, in this case, the business they are in is putting people into steel cages (or “filling beds” as they put it), and they don’t care how, why, or whether the people in those beds should be there. They don’t care if you’re in prison for smoking pot, stealing cars, or being in debt. They just want people in jail.

2 thoughts on “The default position

  1. This is the kind of article that would do a world of good as a topic of study for libertarians. Because this is where their already accepted argument about FISA segues into their less easily navigated waters of civil rights. They can argue business self-determination all they want, but at the end of the day, you have to take a pulse and realize that a decline in civil rights protections necessarily means the above are the kinds of industries in the offing in the society at large. Some currency. Craptastic consumer protections makes you a fabulous consumer of incarcerative products. Then ask them if they can get behind Elizabeth Warren and regs by CFPB. Watch the cognitive dissonance melt away the ice floe like ideological edges….

  2. And once you’re in jail, you may well find yourself working as slave labor in the fields gathering in the crops that people from Mexico and South America used to harvest on the plantations.

    The only difference between prisoners and parolees and real old-time African slaves is that in prison there is some kind of theoretical limit on the time you have to serve, but they can always find ways to extend a sentence. Mr Obama says that for some crimes, you can be held in jail forever without trial. There is a real captive workforce. I wonder if there is a farm at Guantanamo?

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