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The Profit Motive

Ever get the feeling that you’re being had by all the “law and order” politicians who keep screaming that we have to get tough on criminals (cough, Rick Perry, Ric Scott, JD Alexander)? Even though the US incarcerates more people than any other country on earth.

Well, you are being had, and the con is simple. Prisons, which are increasingly run by private corporations, are big business. The more people we send to jail, the more money those corporations make (with your tax dollars), and the more money they donate to the law and order politicians. Simple.

To give you an idea of how bad this has gotten, a judge in Pennsylvania was recently convicted and sentenced to 28 years in prison for taking $1 million in bribes from the builder of juvenile detention centers in exchange for sending thousands of kids (as young as ten years old and guilty only of petty mischief) to the detention centers. As part of this “kids for cash” scandal, 4,000 juvenile convictions were tossed out by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

But you also have to wonder why we are privatizing our prisons at all. Politicians (who are often getting hefty campaign donations from the private prison companies) tell us that it saves money. Well, that’s a bald-faced lie as well.

In Florida, Sheriff Michael Page decided that the county should take over the local jail, which has been run by Corrections Corporation of America for 22 years. At the time the jail was “de-privatized” the county projected that it would save $200,000, but it turned out much better than they expected and saved the taxpayers more than a million dollars this year alone.

Corporations were designed to make money, and they are very good at that. But when you mix profit and public interest, the money they make can end up coming out of your pocket, and ruining the lives of even young children. It makes me sick.



  1. Steve wrote:

    Check out Michael Walzer’s “Spheres of Justice”. Money’s great, but the profit motive shouldn’t be mixed with public goods like health, safety and incarceration.

    Saturday, September 10, 2011 at 6:02 am | Permalink
  2. ebdoug wrote:

    The deep South has always had privatized jails (at least in Alabama)The “convicts” were put under ground to mine unless a family relative bailed them out or had connections. If you were black before and after the Civil War, you were gathered up by the companies and did slave labor. After the war, you were paid a tiny, tiny pittance.

    Saturday, September 10, 2011 at 6:11 am | Permalink
  3. starluna wrote:

    I had a student last semester develop a study to investigate whether private prisons are using their authority to extend the sentences of inmates. The longer the inmates are in the prison, the more money they corporation gets. His pilot study results did not show much but there is some indication that this might be happening, at least in the one state he included in his study.

    Saturday, September 10, 2011 at 8:15 am | Permalink
  4. This parallels to our health care system, and from our health care system back to the privatized prison system.

    Some things we do as a society really, really shouldn’t have profit involved. They should be utilities, or government functions, not private businesses. Health care, prisons, police, law courts, power generation, roads, schools, and so forth. They should be run in the public interest for the public good, not for profit. Some still are, bot some aren’t.

    Apparently, this thought makes me a radical progressive these days. Funny, I remember when we had these public services when I was a kid.

    Sunday, September 11, 2011 at 2:15 am | Permalink
  5. Iron Knee wrote:

    Doesn’t wanting things to remain the way they were when you were a kid make you a conservative — at least in the traditional meaning of the word?

    Sunday, September 11, 2011 at 6:26 am | Permalink
  6. IK: My point exactly. đŸ˜‰

    Monday, September 12, 2011 at 11:21 am | Permalink