The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Saturday, January 24, 2004
 

Prisons and corruption - not just the unions, of course


Thanks to Mike Jimenez and his CCPOA goons in the Golden State (most recently, yesterday), the issue has dropped onto the table here.

In fact, it was in the context of the CCPOA stranglehold on California prisons and (it seems) California pols that I mentioned (January 17) the fallacy that payments made for political campaign expenses were less corrupt that payments to politicians.

The labor unions, like the CCPOA, do their bit. But the corrections industry also makes its presence felt.

Again, this is something of a self-education exercise. Some material coming to hand: a page headed Do prison companies influence criminal justice policy? on a pressure group site Not With Our Money that looks like it's died, unfortunately; from thence to ALECWATCH, a site dedicated to tracking the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a lobby group with corrections clients (more on ALEC here).

(Leave it there: it's proving a tougher proposition that I'd thought to milk the Google cow on the subject.

On the other hand, CCPOA stuff crawls out of the woodwork entirely of its own accord [1]. Funny, that.)

The upshot is that, whether it's lobbying or contributions that's twisting the legislators' arms, it's been 1920s Florida for prisons for the last decade and more. Not only on swapping private for public prisons, but on measures, like three strikes, calculated to increase the prison population, and thus corrections industry revenues.

There's a WaPo piece today which teases with the opening sentence
After 25 years of explosive growth in the U.S. prison system, is this country finally ending its love affair with incarceration?

And follows with a tour d'horizon suggesting the answer to the question is likely to be, No.

Like other cancerous growths, America's prison disease has secondaries: for example, the piece says,
According to the Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, 245 prisons sprouted in 212 rural counties during the 1990s. In West Texas, where oil and farming both collapsed, 11 rural counties acquired prisons in that decade. The Mississippi Delta, one of the poorest regions in the country, got seven new prisons. Appalachian counties of Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky built nine, partially replacing the collapsing coal-mining industry. If the prisons closed, these communities would quickly collapse again.

So, once the prison companies have lobbied and contributed, they indirectly recruit a whole army of voters to stand guard over their investment, lest pols have buyer's remorse.

And [2],
In Mississippi in 2001, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove vetoed the state's corrections budget so he could spend more money on schools. The legislature, lobbied by Wackenhut, overrode the veto.

The Mississippi teachers' union, I surmise, is not such a force [3].

The prisons industry also, I suspect, had something to do with the specific exclusions for ex-prisoners from the sort of benefits they need to stay on the straight and narrow once they leave prison: recidivism equals repeat customers.

Thus, the WaPo piece says,
Welfare reform legislation in 1996 banned anyone convicted of buying or selling drugs from receiving cash assistance or food stamps for life. Legislation in 1996 and 1998 also excluded ex-felons and their families from federal housing.

Most inmates leave prison with no money and few prospects. They may get $25 and a bus ticket home if they are lucky. Studies have found that within a year of release, 60 percent of ex-inmates remain unemployed. Several states have barred parolees from working in various professions, including real estate, medicine, nursing, engineering, education and dentistry. The Higher Education Act of 1998 bars people convicted of drug offenses from receiving student loans. Prisoners are told to reform but they are given few tools to do so. Once they are entangled in the prison system, many belong to it for life. They may spend stretches of time inside prison and periods outside but they are never truly free.


For the prisons companies, inmates are like the cash they stuff in the politicians' pockets: they both have elastic attached.

  1. I'll made an addition to yesterday's piece.

  2. There is more detail on page 7 of a 2001 newsletter (PDF) of the Western Prisons Project. It seems that the public prison system had a surplus of over 2,000 beds; but the lobbyists - and, presumably, handing over some President's heads - did the trick.

    Then, the sheriffs in various counties kicked up a fuss. Why? Because they were using prisoners needed to fill these fancy private jails on lucrative work contracts: a variation on the contract lease system once practised in Georgia, I surmise. (Those dots don't need connecting, do they?)

    There's some more on the issue in this actitivist press release.

  3. I wanted here to make a parenthetical derogatory comment about the standard of MS education. There should be a global state-by-state ranking for educational quality that should leap out of the Google page, it's linked by so many sites. Nada. A forest of educational info, partial in both senses, from a myriad of sources. (This says the worst states for history standards are Alaska, Arkansas, Maine, and Wyoming.)

    So, no comment.



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