Law in Contemporary Society
Society needs to be skeptical of the growth of prison-industrial-complex because it is a threat to public values and individual rights. Between 1987 and 2001, the number of inmates confined to private corrections facilities in the US rose from approximately 3,000 to 123,000 inmates, a 4,000% increase. During the same period, the total inmate population grew from 3.5 million inmates to a staggering 6.5 million inmates. Profiteering from the incarceration of human beings provides an incentive for prison officials to extend the term of prisoners. Prison privatization, particularly in the District of Columbia, corrupts justice, compromises the legitimacy of the criminal justice system, and inflicts added punishment on prisoners.

  • This paragraph, and apparently the essay as a whole, identify "private prisons" and the "prison-industrial complex." It's not clear why. The contractors who build and supply prisons don't care whether the prison is privately managed, and the unions are stronger in publicly-managed prisons. So the public/private distinction is pretty much a diversion.

Federal judges should not simply defer to the Legislative decisions to privatize prison but instead should strike down privatization laws or government actions that strip prisoners of their individual, constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment while in prison.

  • This makes no sense. Whether a prison is privately or publicly managed should matter little to the rights of those confined, and there's no obvious reason why it is unconstitutional to have a prison financed, built, and supplied by private businesses also managed by a contractor. Traditional attempts to get publicly-managed prisons to "pay for themselves" were surely the source of as much mistreatment as private management.

Private prisons in the US, over 50% of which are managed by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) are most concerned with generating profit. Rehabilitation programs are costly and decrease profits. Prison officials have an incentive to extend the amount of time convicts will remain in prison, whether through lobbying and campaign contributions or exerting influence at parole hearings.

  • Prisons managed under contract will do what the contracts require them to do. If states want to get rehabilitation, they can contract for it as easily as they can produce it themselves. That no one is interested in rehabilitation is not the fault of the contractors. The idea that contractors can affect sentences is improbable without evidence, and you offer none.

Relying on private prison officials in parole hearings presents a serious threat to justice and due process rights.

  • Why? This is not evident, and you offer no reason.

Further, private prisons tend to have fewer guards with less experience than comparable state run prisons, which presents a threat to the safety of prisoners as well as prison staff and the public at large.

  • Evidence?

DC inmates, who are relocated to private prisons across the country, are particularly subject to the ills of prison privatization. Removed from home and forced into a distant prison environment, DC inmates frequently lose family ties, have little access to social programs, and are subject to increased abuse by prison guards hired from faraway jurisdictions. Despite these hardships, federal judges, politicians and voters have consistently supported privatization and harsher sentencing measures that create a demand for more private prisons.

  • Federal inmates are subject to being moved to distant federal facilities, which while publicly operated present the same issues, right?

Instead of discouraging the building of private prison systems, federal courts have been a catalyst for prison privatization in DC. For decades, DC prison facilities of various sizes and security levels were poorly maintained. The DC Department of Corrections was under pressure from intervening federal courts to improve its facilities. Instead of providing a comprehensive solution for poorly maintained facilities and operational difficulties, or allowing the local DC government to improve state run prisons, Congress invented its own self-serving plan for DC prisons, a law that mandated closure of DC’s largest city run prison facility.

Prison privatization in Washington DC represents a noteworthy departure from democratic processes that protect individuals from cruel and unusual punishment in light of the fact that the Constitution grants Congress authority to make laws governing the DC. DC citizens have no voting representatives in Congress and thus have little bargaining power to influence federal decisions that affect the city’s prison system. In 1997, Congress passed the Balanced Budget Act, which contained the measure to shut down Lorton, DC’s 81 year old public prison complex, located 25 miles south of DC in Fairfax County Virginia. Prior to the Congressional intervention, voters, mainly Fairfax Country residents, lobbied for closing the prison. Although the law did not provide an alternative location or plan to house the Lorton prison population, Senator John Warner of Virginia commented that "D.C. can now provide a more humane, more sophisticated facility for its prisoners."

  • Complaining about the government of the District of Columbia is reasonable, but it has little more to do with the prison system than any other aspect of the District's operations.

It is disingenuous to say that forcing DC to close its only large prison complex without a plan for what to do with thousands of inmates was humane or sophisticated. Rather than build a new government run prison, the DC Department of Corrections turned to private companies in distant areas to take its prisoners under contract. One of those companies, Corrections Corporation of America, built the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center to house more than 1,500 DC inmates from Lorton, approximately 99% of whom were black. Holding prisoners so far from home that their families can probably never visit seems unduly harsh. Mandating closure of Lorton was grossly unfair to DC inmates, given that DC had no place to send them other than to a private facility hundreds of miles away.

  • But Lorton was not a viable facility at the population it was holding. Conditions had deteriorated to the point that some change was obviously necessary. Why is it surprising that Congress chose to exile the District's prisoners?

Rehabilitation, incapacitation, retribution, and deterrence represent intersecting and antithetical views on why and to what degree criminals should be punished. Whatever the goal of punishment by confinement to prisons, prisoners have unique, unpredictable experiences. The reality of what each prisoner experiences - their daily pain and suffering inside prison – are not completely captured in government reports or academic studies. A true measure of punishment is not simply the quantity of time in prison. Instead of mainly focusing on the length of confinement time for various crimes, decision makers, including federal judges, should account for the hardships individual and geographic groups of prisoners face while incarcerated in private prisons.

  • As opposed to public prisons?

Federal judges have an obligation to ensure that Congressional laws and government actions affecting DC prisoners are rational ones that protect prisoners from arbitrary decisions made by federal government officials. In light of the fact that DC has no voting members in Congress, and all laws passed by the local DC government are subject to Congressional veto, DC citizens cannot rely on principles of democracy and accountability to preserve their constitutional rights.

  • Granted. But what's that got to do with the thesis, which is that prison privatization is bad?

-- JosephWilliams - 07 Apr 2008

  • I don't understand the structure of this paper: an outline contained in the headings would have been helpful. The paper says it's about problems of privatization, which turns out to be a little deceptive, because almost nothing in the paper deals with privatization, and where specific claims are made, they're not supported. Instead the essay veers off into a discussion of the constitutional status of the District of Columbia, which has many facets of which prisons are the least, as it is evident that the District is not going to be able to imprison its own within its borders. That the District now exiles its prisoners at greater distances may be said to result from the political irresponsibility of its government, but I'm not sure that's true: there's no sign that the current municipal administration attaches any priority to moving its villains closer.

  • So what, in the end, is the essay about? What are the steps in the argument it means to make, and how do they lead the reader coherently from the familiar to the less familiar?



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r3 - 22 Jan 2009 - 01:46:31 - IanSullivan
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