Ever heard of private sector prisons? Up until a couple of years ago, I had always assumed that prisons were owned and operated by state and federal government. It was only while researching the Arizona death panels that I discovered the existence of privately run prisons. Something that didn’t shock me was the fact that Republicans were the ones pushing for the privatization of the American prison system. That’s a scary prospect considering how desperate the right wing is to take total power and legislate every aspect of our personal lives. Add the fact that Republicans are literally trying to destroy their political rivals and competition and you have a recipe for tyranny that becomes easier with the addition of private prisons.
Republican support of private prisons is rapidly growing. GOP governors in many states have increased funding to these institutions and while it may seem like Republicans are only trying to support more free market ideas, the prospect for the abuse of the private prison system is very real and has already happened and is spreading.
In Ohio, Republican Governor John Kasich and many Republican state senators have proposed a plan that would privatize nearly half of the state’s prisons. In Florida, the Senate President has also put privatized prisons on the table and in Arizona, Jan Brewer recently awarded several million dollars in tax payer money to the private prison industry. This is occurring in several other red states as well.
The number one private prison company is also America’s first company of its type. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the first, for-profit private prison company in America has taken the lead in this quest to make money by imprisoning people. The more people imprisoned, the better the profit. But even though CCA is making profits in the millions, it treats its employees like crap and the conditions inside the prisons is substandard. Even the safety record of CCA is terrible. The list includes, failure to provide adequate medical care to prisoners; failure to control violence in its prisons; substandard conditions that have resulted in prisoner protests and uprisings; criminal activity on the part of some CCA employees, including the sale of illegal drugs to prisoners; and escapes, which in the case of at least two facilities include inadvertent releases of prisoners who were supposed to remain in custody. You can blame the company’s labor policies for most of its problems. Prisons are very labor intensive institutions, so the only way a company like CCA can sell itself to government as a cheaper option while still making a profit, is by using as few staff as possible, paying them as little as possible, and not spending much on training. Sounds like the GOP platform, doesn’t it?
The relationship between the Republican Party and private prison companies runs even deeper. At the federal level, CCA has given more than $100,000 to the Republican Party since 1997 as well as political action committee contributions to individual members of key Congressional committees. Not only that, CCA has close ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a powerful force that promotes the conservative policy agenda among state legislators and writes bills and pushes them to get passed. CCA has been a corporate member and a major contributor to the Council and a member of its Criminal Justice Task Force and its executives have co-chaired the Task Force over many years. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have also been contributed to Republicans at the state level. But here’s where it really gets scary.
The goal of a for-profit prison or any business for that matter, is to make money. To achieve this goal, it is the interest of any business to have as many customers as possible, or in the case of prisons, as many prisoners as they can get. Every person imprisoned represents more profits for private prison owners. This opens the door to an increase in prison sentences and, in some circumstances, an increase in innocent citizens being sent to prison. This is already happening. In a plot to get rich, a former Juvenile Court judge in Pennsylvania was convicted of racketeering in a case that accused him of sending young offenders to for-profit detention centers in exchange for millions of dollars in illicit payments from the builder and owner of the lockups.
The above incident is just the tip of the iceberg and it WILL get worse. In a recent Supreme Court case, the conservative justices of the bench denied an African American his $14 million award that he won after being falsely imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. He had been on death row. It turns out the prosecutors had withheld crucial evidence that would have proven his innocence. The conservative justices of the Supreme Court have basically ruled that prosecuting attorneys can do whatever they want to win their case and there will not be any consequences. This will certainly mean an increase in the number of innocent people that end up being sent to prison. But this Republican fascination with private prisons and their disregard for the law could result in something more: the incarceration of political opponents. And in Wisconsin, prison labor is taking over the jobs once held by union workers. This action will inspire even more Republicans to kill unions. Because why pay a regular worker a fair wage, when you can put prisoners to work as slaves?i
If you connect the dots, you can see a pattern that will lead to imprisoning political opponents. This won’t quite happen yet but will happen slowly at the grassroots level. The best way Republicans can suppress the Democratic Party is to take voters out of the equation. Think of all the things Republicans are trying to destroy or make illegal. Millions of federal dollars are currently spent on insuring that the poor have legal services. That program is one of the many programs that Republicans are trying to cut entirely. But why? Well, if you don’t have an attorney, its harder to prove your innocence. That makes it easier for the prosecution to win its case. Another fact is that in two conservative states, Kentucky and Virginia, if you are convicted of any crime, you lose your right to vote for life unless it is given back to you by the Governor, which is rare. Most of the people that go to prison in these states are often poor and NOT white. In Arizona, an immigration bill would send illegal immigrants or suspected illegal immigrants to prison, something that private prison companies are salivating over. That has the potential of taking thousands of hispanic voters out of the election equation, meaning less votes for Democrats. Another group being targeted is women. Republicans are trying to make abortion illegal and are even trying to make miscarriages, whether they are natural or not, illegal. Women would most likely be sent to prison because of this. Do you think Republican women will be targeted? Absolutely not. Poor women and women in other ethnic groups will be targeted, meaning even more Democratic voters would be unable to vote because they would be in prison. Even journalists could be imprisoned, Remember when GOP Senate candidate, Joe Miller in Alaska, detained a reporter for asking questions? Many Republicans believe that journalists should only be allowed to ask the questions it wants them to ask and report on only the stories it wants them to. It won’t be long before Republicans make laws to put suspected socialists in prison, and since they have equated being liberal with socialism, we can expect many Democrats to be sent to prison as well.
Another reason to fear this scenario is that Republicans have a general disdain for the judicial branch, and are actively trying to turn the branch into a system that only represents conservative principles and views instead of interpreting the law based upon the Constitution or precedent. Their goal of creating an entirely conservative judiciary is nearly complete. Republican appointees now constitute a majority of judges on 10 of the nation’s 13 federal appeals courts. As few as three more lifetime appointments on key courts would tip the balance in favor of GOP appointees on all but one appeals court – the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. This makes it easier for Republicans to enforce laws that they pass.
Never before in American history has the judicial branch been so corrupted by ideology. All it takes is a bad law, the watering down of proper defense, and an army of corrupt judges to send millions of innocent people to prisons to reach the Republican goal of absolute power and to make private prisons rich. In a few short years, America could resemble the Soviet Union, Communist China, Iran, or Nazi Germany. Americans need to wake up, or one day we will all find ourselves waking up behind bars with no way out.