Taxpayers Held Prisoner by the Private Prison Industry



As you’re doubtless aware, assorted misdeeds and lawbreaking will land you in jail and prison for varying quantities of essentially wasted time. For those who profit off the “bad” guys and gals, crime is a Godsend; a never-ending profit center much like the funeral business. People die; people break the law. It’s amazing how much money there is to be made off those poor (almost always) wretches who end up behind bars.

Many prisons are packed to overflowing. Drugs, alcohol, mental health disorders, guns, poverty, joblessness, gangs and yes, bravado, laziness, media and game influences, all contribute to the swelling population of inmates, not to mention state laws targeting detention facilities as profit centers.

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There’s nothing we love more than tossing people behind bars. Global Research puts the U.S. prison population at 2 million, mostly minorities, poor, addicted and in need of treatment for mental illness. Global points out that there are 500,000 more prisoners in the U.S. than China, a country with 5 times the number of people. We’re number one! We’re number one!

Instead of cutting the prison census in half and assigning people to drug treatment programs and mental health centers and clinical treatment, legislators are making sure that not only do we keep people in prison that have no business being there, but we add to their numbers through model-legislation written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and passed by elected officials who have vacationed and gotten drunk in back rooms on ALEC’s dime. There, meetings take place with ALEC, the appreciative legislator and representatives of huge private prison corporations such as the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) a reliable ALEC member and contributor.

When the next state General Assembly takes place, the pampered lawmakers introduce ALEC legislation of punitive and elongated sentences and insert such time-bloating moneymakers as ‘three strikes’, mandatory minimums and ridiculous drug sentences in bills copied verbatim from ALEC. All to assuage their generous puppet-masters and allow private prison profiteers to skim cumulative billions of taxpayer money over time. While CCA and their ilk generally build the prisons themselves sans taxpayer money, they lease the beds back from 30-80 dollars each and soon recoup that expense. Some states have even agreed to pay the profiteers money for empty beds.

Here’s a Florida media account of how the system works in the sunshine state.

A Daily Kos piece by Bob Sloan names names (look for the Koch name) of corporations taking advantage of convict wages that can dip as low as 60 cents PER DAY; an amount that would make a Chinese peasant blush. Here’s the Sloan entry.

Not named are some corporations that you’ve never heard of that play a major role in silently siphoning off even more dollars, though in this case, it’s not taxpayers dollars, it’s the cash of the poor unfortunate that has to foot the phone or commissary bills for the detention facilities ‘guest’. Ever heard of GTL, Daniels, TelMate or Securus? No? Their business model would apply to a miniscule number of our visitors of course, but if you’ve ever received a collect call from recently arrested Uncle Ned or Aunt Nellie, chances are pretty good that the whole call process and commissary privileges are run by one of the above.

In general, it works this way. The kin, loved one or pal of the incarcerated deals with the company, not the facility. In addition to the long distance charge (if not local), the person providing the money for the phone account pays a surcharge. Upwards of 10% or more. So for every call made from every jail signed on to the service, a goodly percentage goes into the corporate kitty and there’s nothing the loved one can do about it.

The same holds true for putting money into a commissary account that allows the inmate to buy chips, soap, candy and the like. A surcharge is tacked on. Put in $100, find your card debited $115.00. So the inmate pays and the loved ones and pals pay. Friends (not close friends, mind you) have told me of numerous hidden charges out of the blue.

Securus is one of the biggies. They’ve got an interesting product called Jail Call Services (JCS). They claim they can save the account-holder 80% by turning a long distance call into a local call and avoiding per-minute costs. If I ever need JCL, I’ll keep them in mind. They say they’re the only company that does this. No word about surcharges. Securus also has video and email services. In case you’re wondering how widespread privatizing of just these services is, Securus, alone, serves 2,200 correctional facilities across the U.S. and Canada. There are 36 Securus detention customers in my home state of South Carolina, alone, mostly on the county level.

McDaniel Supply Company appears to focus on the South Eastern U.S. with its headquarters in Jesup, Georgia. The family-owned company claims not to demand a single taxpayer dollar. They make their money from whoever pays into the commissary account allowing the company to buy the food, mark it up (who knows how much) and likely add a surcharge to the tab of the person paying into the account.

But the major league bucks go to the giant Corrections Corporation of America and competitor, Wackenhut, now GEO Group Inc. Private prisons go back to the post-Civil War era as an option to game the freeing of the slaves. Such prisons were subsequently outlawed in the early 20th century, but were revived in the 1980’s as a practical response to prison overcrowding. A couple of then Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander’s buds put together CCA and in the last couple of decades the company has prospered. Financial records show that CCA’s profits have increased more than 500% in the last 20 years.

The war on drugs has accounted for a large percentage of those profits and if you’re wondering why Republicans are coming down hard on so-called ‘illegal’ immigrants, check out where a large percentage of the detainees are incarcerated while awaiting their fates. CBS News points to private prisons and the necessity of housing hundreds of thousands of more ICE detainees over the next few years.

And the private facilities are no picnic. USA Today reported in January that Idaho Republican Governor, Chip Otter, a fan of private prisons, was preparing for a state takeover of CCA’s 2,080-bed prison south of Boise after it appeared there were more crooks running the prison than were housed in it. For their $29 million yearly stipend, taxpayers sat helplessly by as CCA was flooded with lawsuits and fessed up to falsifying staff reports that credited thousands of work hours that were actually not staffed for even a minute in spite of chronic under-staffing and reports of repeated violence and gang activity.

Florida might want to rethink a recent agreement awarding nearly 4,000 prison beds under three contracts worth an estimated $57 million dollars to the private GEO Group, the Wackenhut name change. Wachenhut (GEO) has been an active ALEC Task Force member that pays crappy wages and benefits with a high turnover.

Hey, shabby treatment by any other name is still shabby treatment!

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