The Town That Turned Poverty Into a Prison Sentence


Log from Blammo's picture

Crime management is now a for-profit industry. The crime itself still doesn't pay, but rather the "services" to criminals and criminal suspects--and more importantly, their associated fees--are the growing business. The criminals cannot refuse to pay, you see.

Metaphorically speaking, the judge will order you to eat a $10 sandwich. The jailer will then give you a $1.50 sandwich and charge you $18 for it. It is not necessary that you eat that sandwich, but if you do not pay, you will be ordered to eat more sandwiches.

Privatization of the prison industry needs to stop, immediately, before everything is criminalized in pursuit of profit.

Jim Davies's picture

To take aim at privatized prisons is, in my opinion, to miss the target altogether.
Suppose you built a private prison and hung out a shingle. How many customers would you expect, and what would be the source of your revenue and profits?
Answer, of course: none, none and none. There would be a missing ingredient - namely, the force of government. If government doesn't force purchase of a $1.50 sandwich for $18, there's no sale.
From the POV of the hapless third party - the taxpayer - the justice system should be as cheap as possible, consistent with humane handling. We know that for-profit operations always perform two or three times more efficiently than those run directly by government, so it makes sense to contract them out. But even that misses the point; namely that the whole has nothing to do with justice.
Join me, therefore, in taking proper aim at the government "justice" monopoly that falsely equates that concept with punishment.

Log from Blammo's picture

It isn't just privatized prisons. Allowing the "justice" system to fund itself in the form of fines and seizures has provided a perverse incentive for it to prosecute more crime, and to manufacture it whenever it finds a dearth of naturally occurring crime. Funding it out of tax revenues without respect to its performance is bad enough already.

In reading the article, there was no indication that anyone involved had any interest at all in the impact that "law enforcement" had on this ordinary person in a not entirely uncommon situation. No one took any time for consideration as to what would have constituted sufficient punishment, or whether punishment was warranted at all. They kept an accounting and then issued invoices.

The problem is not the monopoly, nor the attitude, but the money. The system is paid more when it processes more criminals. So it processes more criminals, digging up whatever laws it needs in order to ensure the dockets stay filled. It's right there in the first paragraph. Prosecution of minor offenses is this town's second-largest source of revenue.

The immediate solution is to mandate that punitive fines be spent on something that has zero impact on the justice budget. If the town cannot profit by harassment under color of law, then it will not do it.

The question that naturally arises afterward is how, then, do you pay to maintain order? But that is premature. You must first have a desirable state before it can be maintained, and when poor folks are grist for the justice mill, that is not something I wish to perpetuate.

Jim Davies's picture

Fully agree, that the government's so-called "justice system" creates ways to fund itself by multiplying laws; for example rural speed traps have been part of its miserable landscape for a very long time.
But this has, with respect, nothing at all to do with whether or not parts of its machinery are contracted out to for-profit suppliers. Wrong target. Go for the system, not the way it's administered. Strike the root, not the branches. "Desirable state", by the way, is an oxymoron.

Log from Blammo's picture

The system, as it is today, has fully integrated the privatization of public funds. These hangers-on, addicted to the flow of easy government money, provide additional ways for the people invested with government authority to personally profit from betraying the public's trust.

It's fine to say that the very concept of government is inherently corrupt. It is. These public-private business deals just make it so much worse. They are entities that stand to profit by making the state behave more sociopathically than it otherwise would. And I think they are just as much part of the system as the state itself.

As you say, they would have no customers, no revenue, and no profits without the state. That alone is enough to let you know they are not like ordinary private businesses. Without them, the state would have fewer and more obvious ways of bribing its loyalists. People grouse when a retired police chief is collecting a $150000 annual public pension at the ripe old age of 50, but no one even notices when the same sort of person lands a sinecure at a private prison management company. They don't even have to disclose how much he is paid or what he actually does!

Jim Davies's picture

Again: what matters is to strike the root, to take action to abolish government. When that is done, nobody but historians will care whether governments used to operate their police and prisons with direct-hire employees, or through contractors.
And when that is done, the industry of justice will consist of competing companies hired by actual victims or their insurers, to detect and apprehend aggressors, establish their guilt, ensure that ordered restitution is paid, and that the facts are published. Costs will be minimized by the market process, and improper treatment of accused persons will be deterred by their right to counter-sue. There won't be any prisons, nor any police force that we would recognize as such.