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Nils Christie in his book Crime Control as Industry: Towards Gulags, Western Style, a person has difficulty knowing who are the worst criminals -- the men and women prisoners or the individuals who run the penal industry. The book details how the United States relies on the criminal justice system to enrich business interests by following the model of corporate America. The disciplinary system is supposedly designed to control so-called dangerous populations that challenge the prevailing social order. Yet increasingly, the criminal network is used more to build economic growth for private concerns than to enhance public safety and well-being. This entrepreneurial penal complex will continue to expand exponentially unless stopped by the American public -- a population where the majority of uninformed people wear blinders as to what is occurring in the area of crime prevention.
Relying on his expertise as an economist, Christie explains why private companies are becoming involved in the running of prisons. As with any individual or group that invests in an enterprise, the desire is to make a profit -- and the bigger, the better. In addition, given the way the penal system works today, these investors have an unlimited supply of raw materials -- the prisoners.
On December 31, 2002, there were 2,033,331 people in United States prisons and jails. That consists of a rise of 3.7% for one year, more than twice the growth rate of the previous 12 months. The average annual increase since 1995 has been 3.6%. In fact, based on population, the United States places more people in prison cells than any other country in the industrialized world, except Russia and maybe China. Employment figures are just as outstanding: the prison system employs more people than any Fortune 500 company with the possible exception of General Motors, based on USA Today figures that are already over six years old.
Profits will be the main motive regardless whether a private firm is an outsource of the government, for building the prisons, supplying the equipment or providing the services, or the firm is the actual organization running the institutions. Naturally, rehabilitating the inmates, lowering the crime rate or incarceration time, or reducing the number of prisoners does not rate as a high priority since each of these individuals represent monetary gain.
How much pain should be delivered within a society to those who are labeled as socially deviant? Christie questions. How much punishment should one country met out at risk of becoming a Western Gulag? The answer lies in the individuals who make up the society. "A suitable amount of pain is not a question of utility of crime control, of what works. It is a question of standards based on values. It is a cultural question."
Christie explains there are two ways of approaching this cultural problem. The first is to create penal theories that are based on unquestionable lines of authority. The church, for example, comes from the highest of authorities -- God. However, he warns, the non-utilitarian of this type is only a spokesman for God, exactly the way the utilitarian is for the state. One does not have to go back too far in history -- only to Hitler or Stalin -- to see how the cultural perspective can be gained by the state.
The other alternative is to view the foundations of justice and law as always existing, but where the concrete formulations have to be continually recreated. Justice does not consist of paint-the-number principles to be designed using the methods applied in law or in the social sciences. In contrast, it is based on common knowledge that is converted into legal principles by each generation. In short, the measure of a civilization is the way that it delivers pain to its wrongdoers. The amount of punishment is determined by societal values, a mirror of standards that reign in a culture. Each person must ask him/herself "is this in accordance with my own set of values to live in a state which represents me in this way?" number of other criminologists, researchers and social scientists agree with Christie's conclusions about the prison system and fears of privatization. Over 15 essays in the book Invisible Punishment: The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment discuss the results of the recent "three strikes you are out" and "get tough on crime" campaigns that highlighted the late 1980s and 1990s. They talk of the negative effects on society including the loss of public assistance by drug offenders even after completing incarceration, large numbers of women in prison for minor offenses, large disproportion of people of color behind bars, employment discrimination after release, problems of children of imprisoned parents, and highly significant numbers of chronic disease and the serious deficiency levels in terms of the health and safety of the inmates.
Incidents such as the murder and stabbings of numerous inmates at a private Youngstown, Ohio, prison in 1998 shook everyone up. The U.S. Department of Justice issued a major report criticizing many operational shortcomings that contributed to the disaster. Concerns included staffing deficiencies, poor security procedures, and problems with the misclassification of prisoners. Litigation stemming from these problems resulted in a landmark settlement involving both monetary damages and a total restructuring of the prison's policies and practices in regard to staffing, classification, medical care, and monitoring of prison conditions. Similarly, a class action lawsuit filed in Dallas alleged that girls held at the Wackenhut facility were "degraded, humiliated, assaulted, harassed, and emotionally abused," and that the facility was deficient in medical care, counseling, and vocational training. Two Wackenhut employees pled guilty to criminal charges of sexual assault, and Wackenhut decided to settle the lawsuit.
Not surprising, much of the literature in favor of privatization of prisons and/or subcontracting with outside firms is written by organizations and individuals within the penal or political industries, who have the most to lose with change. The National Center for Policy Analysis, a Republican think tank, cites a 1996 report by the state of Pennsylvania that proves the number-one benefit of privatization: cost savings.
Fifteen new prisons are presently needed in the state: It is estimated that going from public to private ownership would reduce costs by $551 million over 20 years. It could also save an additional $33.77 million annually in operating expenses by allowing private companies to run the new prisons. And if operation of the present system were privatized, the state would save an additional $76 million in operating expenses.
Reason Public Policy Institute, a public policy think tank, mentions other arguments in favor of privatization such as the means to keep abreast of state-of-the-art technology, less possibility of overcrowding, greater accountability for inmate protection, higher standards than the government's, and being better equipped to meet and take corrective actions to industry changes.
The Ohio and Texas incidents and other similar events are beginning to make an impact on the government. It is concerned that such issues could tarnish its. In some states, public officials are responding with necessary measures: They are tightening the requirements they write into "requests for proposals" and contracts, strengthening their capacity to monitor contract compliance, beginning to fine companies by holding back payment, and terminating contracts and assuming control where services are found to be deficient. It is way too early to tell exactly how industry will respond to these pressures. It will depend to a great deal on how tough the government is on private crime!
Christie's viewpoints are very different from those who advocate for lengthy strict prison terms, especially for nonviolent acts. Like many others who have studied results, the author does not believe that the "tough on crime" rulings have accomplished much -- accept for aggravating an already burdened system. In numerous cases, the threat of incarceration has been shown not to deter crime.
However, in March of this year, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote upheld the validity of California's "three-strikes" law -- the statute that enables prosecutors and judges to sentence repeat offenders to up to life in prison for relatively minor crimes. The Court's "three-strikes" ruling allows status quo for the 25 other states and the federal government that have similar laws. It may also encourage legislators in the remaining 24 states to enact such rulings if they are otherwise inclined to do so. Any challenge to these statutes now will have to fight the Court's ruling that this is consistent with the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against "cruel and unusual" punishment. Most likely other similar tough crime laws will come on the books in the near future.
Christie's book reinforced several personal issues I have with the present correctional system. The first is the significant discrepancy between the numbers of white vs. prisoners of color -- mostly young African-American males -- who are in today's prisons. I see this as another form of discrimination and perhaps even modern-day slavery. This is a moral issue, since I am not black.
For the poor city dwellers in the U.S.A., to…[continue]
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Randall Robinson's book The Debt (2000) about the condition of blacks in America, he states that the United States owes reparations to the descendents of slaves. In The Reckoning: What Blacks Owe to Each Other, written two years later, he moves the emphasis of obligation to other blacks in America. He urgently requests that black leaders and those who have made their way up the socio-economic ladder to work