In the early 1990’s if you asked me what I thought about for-profit private prisons I’d have said, “Private prisons? You have to be kidding? Are there private prisons?” Ask anyone who is not a criminal justice researcher, prison activist or correctional officer the same question today and he or she will probably respond the same way. Private prisons are below the radar and the industry wants to keep it that way.
Private prisons and their corollary industries, private inmate transportation, private inmate food services and private inmate medical services, have been around since the 1980’s. They are a throwback to the convict lease system that developed after the Civil War.
So what’s the big deal? Who cares whether the government or a private corporation runs a prison or a jail? If a private company can run a correctional facility as well as government and for less money, then why not let them?
Private Capitol Punishment is the story of my experience into the “black hole” of prison privatization. I call it a black hole because I was pulled into the issue and have not been able to get out. I am a legislative assistant and lobbyist for the Florida Police Benevolent Association, the largest law enforcement collective bargaining agent in Florida.
It was in this capacity that I started investigating the for-profit private prison industry in Florida. Little did I know that my research and tenacity would lead to the largest civil penalty at that time by the Florida Commission on Ethics, the discrediting of the academic “guru” and Wall Street darling of prison privatization, the resignation of the executive director of the state agency that oversees the private prisons, and my thrust into the position as a leader in the fight against the private prison industry.
This is a true story of corruption, politics and for-profit private prisons. And it’s not just about Florida. There are private prisons across the United States and the world.
Citizens need to be concerned about how the private prison industry uses overcrowding and budget shortfalls to “sell” their services, particularly with the prison population in the United States hovering at two million.
Citizens should be outraged that some of the same lawmakers who have drafted and passed the draconian legislation locking up more and more people, thereby creating “clients” for the industry, are members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is a think tank that receives funding from the for-profit private industry. Industry members have even sat on ALEC’s criminal justice committee.
It is important for public officials who might be considering the “Florida Model” for overseeing private prisons to read this book. Having an agency outside the department of corrections DOES NOT WORK.
If I do my job right this book should make you mad. It made me mad when I experienced it. Profiting from the incarceration of human beings is immoral. The Catholic Bishops of the South said it the best:
To deprive other persons of their freedom, to restrict them from contact with other human beings, to use force against them up to and including deadly force, are the most serious of acts. To delegate such acts to institutions whose success depends on the amount of profit they generate is to invite abuse and abdicate our responsibility to care for our sisters and brothers.
(“Wardens from Wall Street: Prison Privatization,” Catholic Bishops of the South, April 2003)