Tag Archives: prisons

Private Prisons: Bernie Sanders is Right

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US Senator Bernie Sanders (allegedly a Vermont Independent, but running for president as a Democrat) and US Representatives Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Bobby Rush (D-IL) introduced bills in Congress last week aiming to “ban private prisons, reinstate the federal parole system and eliminate quotas for the number of immigrants held in detention.” The bills won’t pass, and who knows what devils lurk in their details, but the general direction is right.

Americans should be embarrassed by the propensity of government at all levels to cage other Americans. We’ve often heard over the last few years that the US government imprisons a higher proportion of its own subject population than any other government on Earth. I doubt that’s true — the remaining Communist regimes and other dictatorships likely don’t honestly account for how many people they incarcerate — but the US certainly leads the “western democracies” in the matter. Nearly one in every 30 Americans is “under correctional supervision,” i.e. in jail, in prison, or on parole or probation.

As a libertarian, I’m all for “privatization.” I’d love to see as many services as possible taken out of government’s hands and left to the private sector.

But “private prisons” aren’t “private” in any meaningful sense of the word. They’re still operated under government supervision and according to government rules; they are still paid for with taxpayer dollars. Fake “privatization” of prisons creates two bad situations:

First, it creates a special interest lobby centered around how much money can be made by sticking people in cages. “Private prison” companies lobby for things like mandatory minimum sentences and a litany of new or revised “tough on crime” laws that put more and more non-violent criminals in their facilities to generate more and more profits. That lobby finances the campaigns of politicians who pass such laws. It’s good for business.

Second, it results in situations where no one is held accountable or responsible for abuses. When, for example a prisoner dies for lack of proper medical care, the politicians blame the “private prison” operators and the operators blame the politicians, round and round in a circle until someone’s wrist gets slapped and everyone forgets about it (until the next such incident).

I won’t vote for him, but Sanders is right on this. We should be looking for ways to minimize, or even abolish, imprisonment, not ways to pretend we’ve “privatized” it.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


Time to Give Taxpayers a (Prison) Break

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Daniel Webster was from New England, but one of his most famous quotes merits recognizing him as an honorary Floridian: “Every man’s life, liberty, and property are in danger when the Legislature is in session.”

In special session last week, Florida’s House and Senate negotiators agreed on a $2.3 billion budget for the state’s Department of Corrections (“State law makers pump up prisons budget,” News Service of Florida, June 11). That’s about $115 — or about 14 hours at minimum wage — from every man, woman and child in Florida. That’s more than I pay Netflix for unlimited access to re-runs of “Orange is the New Black.” And all for the ignoble purpose of keeping people in cages.

Except no, not really.

$1.3 million of the new spending is earmarked for “computer software upgrades.” Apparently 9,000 corrections officers don’t have email accounts. Do I hear the world’s smallest violin playing in the distance? To me, the real scandal is that there are more than 9,000 corrections officers in Florida.

Millions — probably tens, maybe even hundreds of millions — more go to politically connected corporations operating “privatized” prisons for profit at taxpayer expense. If you thought you saw their lobbyists skulking around Tallahassee last week, you probably did.

Florida doesn’t need more money for its prisons. It needs fewer prisons, and fewer prisoners. The same is true for every other state. And there are easy ways to get there.

One of the easiest ways would be for those legislators to get together and repeal all the state laws against victimless “crimes” — drugs, gambling, sex work, etc. If they can’t bring themselves to stop trying to run everyone else’s lives, the rest of us should pitch in. Cops should start ignoring those “crimes” in favor of real ones. Prosecutors should stop wasting taxpayer money on prosecuting them. Juries should refuse to convict.

Even where real crimes — like theft, for example — are involved, non-violent offenders shouldn’t receive food, housing and medical care at taxpayer expense.  Nor should surplus corrections personnel. Furlough the latter and let them get real jobs in the productive sector. Put the former on probation or electronically enforced “house arrest” so that they can pay their own bills, as well as restitution to their victims.

It’s time for “corrections” reform, with a view toward ultimately abolishing prisons entirely. And that means less, not more, taxpayer money.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.