One more reason to ban privatized prisons

NPR has an extraordinary scoop on the birth of Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 illegal immigration law:

Last year, two men showed up in Benson, Ariz., a small desert town 60 miles from the Mexico border, offering a deal.

Glenn Nichols, the Benson city manager, remembers the pitch.

"The gentleman that’s the main thrust of this thing has a huge turquoise ring on his finger," Nichols said. "He’s a great big huge guy and I equated him to a car salesman."

What he was selling was a prison for women and children who were illegal immigrants.

"They talk [about] how positive this was going to be for the community," Nichols said, "the amount of money that we would realize from each prisoner on a daily rate."

But Nichols wasn’t buying. He asked them how would they possibly keep a prison full for years — decades even — with illegal immigrants?

"They talked like they didn’t have any doubt they could fill it," Nichols said.

That’s because prison companies like this one had a plan — a new business model to lock up illegal immigrants. And the plan became Arizona’s immigration law.

Turns out, the bill was written by a mixed group of politicians and lobbyists involved in the group ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization which represents a number of big players in industry, from Reynolds American Inc to the Corrections Corporation of America.

As soon as Pearce’s bill hit the Arizona statehouse floor in January, there were signs of ALEC’s influence. Thirty-six co-sponsors jumped on, a number almost unheard of in the capitol.  According to records obtained by NPR, two-thirds of them either went to that December meeting or are ALEC members.

That same week, the Corrections Corporation of America hired a powerful new lobbyist to work the capitol.

The prison company declined requests for an interview. In a statement, a spokesman said the Corrections Corporation of America, "unequivocally has not at any time lobbied — nor have we had any outside consultants lobby – on immigration law."

At the state Capitol, campaign donations started to appear.

Thirty of the 36 co-sponsors received donations over the next six months, from prison lobbyists or prison companies — Corrections Corporation of America, Management and Training Corporation and The Geo Group.

By April, the bill was on Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk.

Read the whole thing. This is not merely an example of corporate greed or government overreach – but rather an example of how the two work together in order to increase both profits for private industry and increase the power and scope of the state. We call that crony-capitalism – and in this case it’s especially dangerous to civil liberties, not just because private industry is writing laws that will enrich them, but because this is a matter of actual flesh and blood freedom. We should not create profit incentives for crime-fighting, incarceration or illegal immigration.

The terrible irony is that this strong prison lobby will never push for real immigration reform and will in fact actively work against it because illegal immigration, just like illegal drugs, will benefit the prison industry to the tune of millions and millions of taxpayer dollars – which is, for lack of a better word, disgraceful. SB 1070, far from representing a positive step to reform our immigration system, represents the first move* in a War on Immigrants. And anyone who has studied our other wars – on drugs, terror, poverty, etc. should realize that once that has begun, it will never end.

*Or at least the first move in the current debate, “the shot heard round the world” as a friend described it to me.

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17 thoughts on “One more reason to ban privatized prisons

  1. Holy crap. I think of myself as being pretty damn cynical, and this is jarring even to me. File this under the “God, I Really Hope This Isn’t Actually True” category.


    • @Jaybird, Well, duh – everyone knows that the problem with those prisons for children was that they were run by Saddam. Prisons for children and women run by private corporations coordinating with Sheriff Joe (who has never, ever, ordered a pregnant mother to be handcuffed and abused while giving birth), though, are virtual Disneylands; in fact, most kids would be lucky to live in such an environment.


        • @Jaybird, Not only that, but it seems that these liberals are actually creating an entire network of resorts in vacation hotspots for illegals, terrorists and other ne’er-do-wells – first a pristine Caribbean islands, now the vicinity of the Grand Canyon, Sedona, and fantastic golf….what’s next? The Aspen Prison for Drug Smugglers?


  2. One of Richard Condon’s lesser-known novels is Mile High, in which Prohibition is revealed to be a business plan created by the Mafia.


  3. I once went to dinner with some friends and Jello Biafra (long story), and at one point Jello claimed that the prison industrial complex was who pushed for the three strikes laws to be passed in California, mostly by ad campaigns urging people to vote for the measure to save the children, and although maybe also in terms of drafting the bill. I pretty much shrugged it off because he’s a tad more paranoid than the rest of us… but okay, maybe he had a point. Has anyone heard that theory about the three strikes laws before?


  4. The corps not only make money by housing prisoners, they also make money off the slave labor. American prisons make a lot of things. Do a little research and one will be even more amazed at the corruption in America. There are about 37,000 people in prison for marajuana in America that cost about 40,000 per year per prisoner. The whole thing is not bad, it is evil.


  5. Once again the illegal immigrant avenger as uncovered another plot to sully the good name of illegals everywhere. I wonder if E.D. is getting paid by La Raza or MALDEF or some other pro-illegal group to write this drivel?


  6. This is bad, of course, but the same can happen with public prisons. California’s prison guard union has pushed through legislation that is just as evil. Remember how Prop. 66 got defeated in 2004?


  7. It isn’t as if the publicly run prisons didn’t serve anyone’s economic agenda. The prison guards in California have one of the most powerful unions in the state, with a tremendous influence on elections and legislation. Government bureaucracies are organized economic interest groups just as much as private corporations are.

    It’s not clear to me that subcontracting to private business is either better or worse than relying on government bureaucracy in performing the functions that I think government really does have to perform. Either way, you have to deal with most of the same problems: the tragedy of the commons and the resulting rational ignorance of voters, principal/agent issues, the logic of collective action (as discussed, for example, by Mancur Olson), and rent-seeking, among others. I think it’s safe to say that we don’t really have a fully effective solution to those in political theory or the art of government.


  8. This isn’t an argument to ban privatized prisons, it’s an argument for abolishing the state. Private firms become corrupt with aid from the state, and in this case it is the state that has created unjust immigration laws that even necessitate the prisons. Ban the state, privatize everything. No more state-sponsored corruption or limited liability.


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