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Hullabaloo


Friday, February 07, 2014

 
Incentives for authoritarian overreach

by digby

If this doesn't show exactly what the incentives for the drug war are, I don't know what will. Josh Holland reports:
It’s well known that people of color are overrepresented in America’s prisons relative to their share of the population. But a recent study finds that they make up an even larger share of the populations of private, for-profit prisons than publicly run institutions.

According to Christopher Petrella, a doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley who conducted the study, this is not an accident — it’s about private firms selecting the least expensive prisoners to manage and leaving costlier populations in the hands of state correction systems.

Why would African American and Latino prisoners be cheaper to incarcerate than whites? Because older prisoners are significantly more expensive than younger ones. “Based on historical sentencing patterns, if you are a prisoner today, and you are over 50 years old, there is a greater likelihood that you are white,” Petrella explained to BillMoyers.com. “If you are under 50 years old — particularly if you’re closer to 30 years old — you’re more likely to be a person of color.” He cited a 2012 report by the ACLU which found that it costs $34,135 per year to house a non-geriatric prisoner, compared with $68,270 for a prisoner age 50 or older.

“I came to find out that through explicit and implicit exemptions written into contracts between these private prison management companies and state departments of correction, many of these privates — namely GEO and CCA, the two largest private, for-profit prison companies — write exemptions for certain types of prisoners into their contracts,” Petrella said. “And, as you can guess, the prisoners they like to house are low-cost prisoners… Those prisoners tend to be younger, and they tend to be much healthier.”

You've got to love the fact that these private prison corporations are able to write certain prisoner specifications into their contracts. Makes it so much easier for the legal system to know who to imprison doesn't it? And if there's one thing that's very clear, these prisons need lots of young, healthy people to fill their cells in order to make a profit. And they need them to be people who aren't going to create the kind of fuss that might be made if they ran around the suburbs gathering up nice, healthy young white people:
But why are older prisoners more likely to be white? Petrella explains that “up until the mid-1960s or so, two-thirds of the US prison population was what the Census Bureau would consider non-Hispanic white. Today, that’s totally inverted — about a third of all prisoners around the country are white and around two-thirds are people of color. And the chief explanation for that trend is the so-called drug war, which disproportionately impacts people of color.“
I don't now why I'm shocked by this, but I am. It's been clear for a long time that the private prison industry is corrupt. It's a terrible problem. But I hadn't seen this particular correlation between the drug war and the profits of the prison industry before and it's very illuminating.

In fact, it's becoming clear that this privatizing of state security functions is a very real and present danger to our constitutional liberties in a number of different ways. Here's an excerpt of a recent interview with Edward Snowden that speaks to this issue:
INTERVIEWER: How does a young man from Elizabeth City in North Carolina, thirty years old, get in such a position in such a sensitive area?

SNOWDEN: That's a very difficult question to answer. Um, in general, I would say it highlights the dangers of privatizing government functions. I worked previously as an actual staff officer, a government employee for the Central Intelligence Agency, but I've also served much more frequently as a contractor in a private capacity. What that means is you have private for-profit companies doing inherently governmental work, like targeted espionage, surveillance, compromising foreign systems. And anyone who has the skills, who can convince a private company that they have the qualifications to do so, will be empowered by the government to do that and there's very little oversight. There's very little review.
...
INTERVIEWER: You worked for the NSA through a private contractor with the name Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the big ones in the business. What is the advantage for the U.S. Government or the CIA to work through a private contractor to outsource essential government functions?

SNOWDEN: Contracting culture of the national security community in the United States is a complex topic. It's driven by a number of interests between primarily limiting the number of direct government employees, at the same time as keeping lobbying groups in Congress --- typically from very well-funded businesses, such as Booz Allen Hamilton --- the problem there is, you end up in a situation where government policies are being influenced by private corporations who have interests that are completely divorced from the public good in mind.

The result of that is what we saw at Booz Allen Hamilton, where you have private individuals who have access to what the government alleges were millions and millions of records that they could walk out the door with at any time, with no accountability, no oversight, no auditing. The government didn't even know they were gone.
Privatizing security functions puts a profit motive into it. Does this look like a good idea?
... Justice Policy Institute (JPI) released a report chronicling the political strategies of private prison companies “working to make money through harsh policies and longer sentences.” The report’s authors note that while the total number of people in prison increased less than 16 percent, the number of people held in private federal and state facilities increased by 120 and 33 percent, correspondingly. Government spending on corrections has soared since 1997 by 72 percent, up to $74 billion in 2007. And the private prison industry has raked in tremendous profits. Last year the two largest private prison companies — Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group — made over $2.9 billion in revenue.

JPI claims the private industry hasn’t merely responded to the nation’s incarceration woes, it has actively sought to create the market conditions (ie. more prisoners) necessary to expand its business.
All those national security contractors do exactly the same thing. Here's one from the  "Chertoff Group" you might recognize:



That's not to say that the danger of the security state itself doesn't present equal challenges.  But the unfortunately reality is that private industry and government are working together under certain incentives in the security realm, both in terms of power and money, that threaten the Bill of Rights. This is what happens when our leadership forgets that their oath is to protect the constitution rather than to protect the people. They are not the same thing  --- once one decides that the people must be kept "secure" by any means necessary, the constitution is no longer relevant.

I think Justice Antonin Scalia spelled that out pretty clearly.


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