||Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed|
If Money Is the Only Thing That Matters
By: Dale Recinella
We continue to address the six pastoral letters on the criminal justice system
issued by our Catholic Bishops in the South. The second letter, Wardens from Wall Street: Prison Privatization, deals with the delicate issue of mixing profit motives with the incarceration of American citizens. If this were just a political or an economic issue, the Bishops might do better to avoid such a thorny question. But it is a moral issue, as well.
The last time I made a presentation on the problem of mixing prisons with profits was in 1997 when I was teaching international law for multinational business at the graduate school of St. John’s University (NYC) in Rome. The textbook discussed the fair trade problems created by convict labor. The major culprit was China.
It all became less of an issue when the U.S. decided to get into the business. Paying inmates one or two-bits an hour to manufacture factory produced products, while the taxpayers pay for the workers’ housing and food, can be too good to refuse. That is one of the problems of mixing profits with the police power of the state.
Yet, technically speaking, that is not privatization. Prison privatization puts a prison’s operations in the hands of business. The officers and staff work for a shareholder owned corporation. The inmates in a privatized prison are subject to the police power of government exercised by corporate managers with an eye on quarterly profits and personal bonus projections. Many of us have had a taste of this reality in the context of HMOs.
Why would anyone who has experienced the fierce dividend and profitability based pressure that Wall Street’s analysts can exert on the culture and management values of any publicly held company agree to such a situation? There seems to be one major reason: Money.
There is usually a great deal of money to be made when a private enterprise can take over an essential activity of government, especially when government has traditionally exercised a monopoly on it. In modern times, our country is witnessing this phenomenon with the privatization of warfare, of social services, and now of prisons.
The potential for such great profits can only be realized by successfully obtaining the award of the contract to provide such services. That means politics and political contributions, big political contributions.
It also means that profitability, the return on the corporate investment in personnel, facilities and politics, is directly related to keeping the private prisons full. That could mean keeping American citizens locked up as long as possible, even when that may be much longer than is necessary.
A strange process of adverse selection exacerbates this possibility. Businesses running prisons usually negotiate contracts to cherry pick the inmates that are assigned to the corporate prisons. They want the ones that are not violent and do not cause problems. Those are also the inmates who would most likely qualify for early release. That starts to look like a conflict of interest.
Two additional facts make it worse. America incarcerates a higher percentage of its people than any other country in the world. And prison corporations can be intensely involved in lobbying for and against laws that determine how many Americans are locked up and for how long. We have a case of severe conflict of interest. The conflict is between the profit-making motive of major corporations and proper use of the state’s power to take away our freedom.
Fallen human nature does not have a good track record for making tough choices against one’s own financial self-interest in the vice of such pressures. That’s why we have always left such things in the hands of government.
Over the next several columns, we will be analyzing the Southern Bishops’ pastoral letter against prison privatization and addressing what is happening in America, especially in the South, as profits are generated by keeping people behind bars.
First published: The Florida Catholic, December 22, 2006
© 2006 Dale S. Recinella & The Florida Catholic.
Used with permission. All rights reserved.
No further reproduction or republication without prior written permission.
I Was In Prison
News & Updates
This ezine is targeted for people involved in prison ministry or in stopping the death penalty, we think you will find helpful information for people who are undecided about capital punishment, for those who have never experienced the inside of a jail or prison, and for those who feel called to participate through prayer and adoration.
Your name and information will never be used or sha#3333FF with anyone. We promise!
Dale S. Recinella
, Catholic Lay Chaplain, Florida Death Row and Solitary Confinement
Susan M. Recinella
, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed