Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Blow Against the Prison-Industrial-Complex

In a major defeat for the private prison industry on February 14th the Florida State legislature rejected SB 2038..     Had the bill succeeded it would have initiated the selloff of 24 of the state’s prisons to private operators,  by far the biggest such deal in  U.S. history. Backing the measure were the state’s Republican Governor Rick Scott, State Senate President Mike Haridopolos plus the two largest players in the U.S. private prison market, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and Florida-based GEO Group. Between them the two companies have donated nearly two million dollars to Florida political campaigns over the last three election cycles n order to grease the wheels of passage for this bill.

Republicans Split Ranks 

In the end, some nine Republicans crossed the floor to help defeat the bill by a narrow 21-19  margin. Opposition came from a curious alliance of fiscally suspicious, morally upright Republicans and mainstream Democrats.. While supporters claimed privatization could save up to $16.5 million for the country’s third largest state prison system (after California and Texas), a number of legislators were skeptical of such claims. Some argued that private prisons economized by cherry picking low maintenance prisoners, leaving people with serious medical conditions or histories of violence in the care of the state.  Republican Miguel Diaz de la Portilla called the proposal a “bigger gamble than casinos.” Apparently Jim McDonough, who ran Florida prisons under former Gov. Jeb Bush, sent an influential  letter to all Republican legislators urging a “no” vote on the grounds that the projected savings were unreliable. Last month the schism over the issue  in the GOP  went public when  Haridopolos  fired the Republican head of the state prison budget committee, Mike  Fasano when Fasano came out against the privatization effort.  Fasano had made his position quite clear, “You don’t put corrections officers and their families out of work just so corporations can make a profit.”

Other Republicans like former county sheriff Steve Oerlich, took the moralistic approach, “I’m scared about the whole idea of private companies being responsible for taking away someone’s freedom, for keeping them there,” said Oerlich, “no sooner should we privatize our military than we should be privatizing our corrections department and our correctional officers. I think it’s bad policy.”

Mobilization against 2038 created additional  strange bedfellows. For example, Republican Greg Evers joined a labor-oreinted opposition to the bill because some 3,500 unionized prison guards live in his constituency and he feared their well-paying jobs would disappear.  The unions themselves, including the Teamsters (who now represent correctional officers,)  AFSCME and the Florida Education Association also came out against as did  the NAACP and the Tea Party..

While for the moment the bill appears dead, according to the letter of the law Scott has the power to issue an executive order to privatize the targeted prisons. But observers considered this highly unlikely due to the fracturing of his party ranks over the issue.

Future Grand Plans for the Privates

While social justice activists and prison reformers breathed a sigh of relief at Florida’s  rejection of the deal, the corporations vowed to continue their  quest for a bigger market share of the some 2.3 prison and jail beds in the U.S. A  Huffington Post report of February 13th revealed that CCA had sent out letters to Departments of Corrections in 48 states offering cash for prisons. Billed as a way to help states out of fiscal difficulties, the proposal included a twenty year management agreement between CCA and state authorities for all prisons purchased.  The missive from CCA’s  Chief Executive Officer, Harley Lappin, former Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons,  stated:  “We believe this comes at a timely and helpful juncture and hope you will share our belief in the benefits of the purchase-and-manage model.”  This offer by CCA drew its inspiration from the firm’s 2011 $72.7 million purchase of Lake Erie Correctional Facility in Ohio, a process initated by then newly elected right wing Governor John Kasich.  Lappin viewed the Ohio deal as a model to emulate. As he put it, “We want to build on that success and provide our existing or prospective government partners with access to the same opportunity,” But a report from Policy Matters Ohio refuted Lappin’s claims of success. Policy Matters calculated that  he prison sale would cost taxpayers $11 million more over the next 20 years than if the state would have continued to own the prison.

The CCA offer is a warning that the privates in the freedom deprivation sector remain determined to improve their bottom lines by  dangling  money in the face of cash-strapped state corrections and financial  managers. Let us hope that other states follow the example of Florida rather than tying the liberty of their citizens to the financial fortunes of the prison profiteers.

James Kilgore is a Research Scholar at the Center for African Studies at the University of Illinois. He is the author of three novels, We Are All Zimbabweans Now, Freedom Never Rests and Prudence Couldn’t Swim, all written during his six and a half years of incarceration. He can be reached at waazn1@gmail.com

 

 

More articles by:

James Kilgore is a writer and activist based in Urbana, Illinois. He spent six and a half years in prison. During those years, he drafted three novels which have been published since his release in 2009. His latest book, Understanding Mass Incarceration: A People’s Guide to the Key Civil Rights Struggle of Our Era will be published by The New Press in September. He can be contacted at waazn1@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
May 25, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
Could Anything Cause the GOP to Dump Trump?
Pete Tucker
Is the Washington Post Soft on Amazon?
Conn Hallinan
Iran: Sanctions & War
Jeffrey St. Clair
Out of Space: John McCain, Telescopes and the Desecration of Mount Graham
John Laforge
Senate Puts CIA Back on Torture Track
David Rosen
Santa Fe High School Shooting: an Incel Killing?
Gary Leupp
Pompeo’s Iran Speech and the 21 Demands
Jonathan Power
Bang, Bang to Trump
Robert Fisk
You Can’t Commit Genocide Without the Help of Local People
Brian Cloughley
Washington’s Provocations in the South China Sea
Louis Proyect
Requiem for a Mountain Lion
Robert Fantina
The U.S. and Israel: a Match Made in Hell
Kevin Martin
The Libya Model: It’s Not Always All About Trump
Susie Day
Trump, the NYPD and the People We Call “Animals”
Pepe Escobar
How Iran Will Respond to Trump
Sarah Anderson
When CEO’s Earn 5,000 Times as Much as a Company’s Workers
Ralph Nader
Audit the Outlaw Military Budget Draining America’s Necessities
Chris Wright
The Significance of Karl Marx
David Schultz
Indict or Not: the Choice Mueller May Have to Make and Which is Worse for Trump
George Payne
The NFL Moves to Silence Voices of Dissent
Razan Azzarkani
America’s Treatment of Palestinians Has Grown Horrendously Cruel
Katalina Khoury
The Need to Evaluate the Human Constructs Enabling Palestinian Genocide
George Ochenski
Tillerson, the Truth and Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department
Jill Richardson
Our Immigration Debate Needs a Lot More Humanity
George Payne
The Direction of No Return: a Meditation on America’s Decent into Tyranny
Judith Deutsch
Pension Systems and the Deadly Hand of the Market
Shamus Cooke
Oregon’s Poor People’s Campaign and DSA Partner Against State Democrats
Thomas Barker
Only a Mass Struggle From Below Can End the Bloodshed in Palestine
Binoy Kampmark
Australia’s China Syndrome
Missy Comley Beattie
Say “I Love You”
Ron Jacobs
A Photographic Revenge
Saurav Sarkar
War and Moral Injury
Clark T. Scott
The Shell Game and “The Bank Dick”
Seth Sandronsky
The State of Worker Safety in America
Thomas Knapp
Making Gridlock Great Again
Manuel E. Yepe
The US Will Have to Ask for Forgive
Laura Finley
Stop Blaming Women and Girls for Men’s Violence Against Them
Rob Okun
Raising Boys to Love and Care, Not to Kill
Kevin Martin
It’s Not Always All About Trump
Christopher Brauchli
What Conflicts of Interest?
Winslow Myers
Real Security
George Wuerthner
Happy Talk About Weeds
Abel Cohen
Give the People What They Want: Shame
Douglas Valentine
Memorial Day
May 24, 2018
Gary Leupp
Art of the Dealbreaker: Trump’s Cancellation of the Summit with Kim
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail