Tuesday, March 8, 2011

For-Profit Institutions: Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

The debate over privatized correctional institutions is, for the most part, a non-debate. Institutions owned, funded, and directed by such entities as the Corrections Corporation of America are a fact of life, and Californian inmates hare subjected to privatized out-of-state institutions as well as to privatized operations within state prisons. The jury is still out on whether private institutions produce higher or lower recidivism rates (this Florida study suggests no significant differences between private and public institutions; here's a good lit review from the study of previous projects in the same vein). But beyond the issue of long term gains, privatized institutions provide problematic opportunities for profit making that end up in corruption. And corruption comes in many forms.

What sparked this post was a recent piece on the California Bar Journal about a Pennsylvania judge who has just been convicted by a federal jury of --

taking millions of dollars in kickbacks from the owner of for-profit juvenile detention facilities. Mark Ciavarella was convicted on 12 of 39 counts, including racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and filing false tax returns. The jury also found that he must forfeit the $997,600 “finder’s fee” he received from the developers of private juvenile detention centers. Another former judge charged in the case, Michael T. Conahan, pleaded guilty to a single racketeering charge last year and is awaiting sentence.

The author, Janice Brickley, informs us of the California Commission on Judicial Performance; lawyers can submit complaints about judges, and in situations such as the Pennsylvania travesty, they should. But much as it is shocking to see a judicial officer whose neutrality is the cornerstone of justice sell off to correctional profiteers, let's keep in mind that judges are human beings. And the absolute power provided to people - whether it's over prison management or people's lives - corrupts absolutely.

We've recently seen examples of other kinds of travesty that seems to be the by-product of privatized industries: The sexual assault of Hawai'ian inmates in a private facility in Kentucky, and the distressing complicity of Correctional Corporations of America in bringing about the racist, xenophobic, and arguably unconstitutional, SB1070 in Arizona. Why would judges be better than corporate profiteers or their employees? Why are we so surprised when they transgress, whereas we shrug at CCA's cynical manipulation of state correctional policies to fill its institutions with inmates? I don't know. But these sorts of incidents should provide food for thought to those who would expand the privatized empire as a measure to fight overcrowding.

Props to dear colleague Lois Schwartz for the link.

1 comment:

Robert Canning said...

Thanks Hadar for bringing this up and posting about it. In my work for CDCR I have had the opportunity to spend some time in an "out of state" facility run by CCA. Compared to CDCR's in-state prisons, CCA's buildings were brighter and cleaner. There is nothing so bleak as the gray and dim buildings in which we incarcerate our state's citizens. Another difference that I found interesting (and perhaps refreshing) was the lack of olive-drab jumpsuits. One way that CCA makes its prisons economically attractive is that they do not have to have peace officers manning the buildings and towers. In California, all correctional officers are sworn peace officers - which brings with it much more expense. Certainly this is one (of many) contributions to the huge drain on the budget that CDCR has become over the years. And because of the CCA "business model" which feeds off the over-population teet of many states, most of the most expensive inmates (the sick, the mentally disturbed, the dangerous) are left in-state, thus increasing the concentration of these souls in California's institutions. This is one reason the concentration of mentally ill inmates in CDCR is going up - particularly in in-state institutions.