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PORTSIDE  June 2012, Week 1

PORTSIDE June 2012, Week 1

Subject:

Plantations, Prisons and Profits

From:

Portside Moderator <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Sun, 3 Jun 2012 22:04:43 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (145 lines)

Plantations, Prisons and Profits
By CHARLES M. BLOW
New York Times
May 25, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/26/opinion/blow-plantations-prisons-and-profits.html

[moderator: The full New Orleans Times-Picayune series
may be found here -
http://www.nola.com/prisons/]

"Louisiana is the world's prison capital. The state
imprisons more of its people, per head, than any of its
U.S. counterparts. First among Americans means first in
the world. Louisiana's incarceration rate is nearly
triple Iran's, seven times China's and 10 times
Germany's."

That paragraph opens a devastating eight-part series
published this month by The Times-Picayune of New
Orleans about how the state's largely private prison
system profits from high incarceration rates and tough
sentencing, and how many with the power to curtail the
system actually have a financial incentive to perpetuate
it.

The picture that emerges is one of convicts as chattel
and a legal system essentially based on human
commodification.

First, some facts from the series:

 One in 86 Louisiana adults is in the prison system,
which is nearly double the national average.

 More than 50 percent of Louisiana's inmates are in
local prisons, which is more than any other state. The
next highest state is Kentucky at 33 percent. The
national average is 5 percent.

 Louisiana leads the nation in the percentage of its
prisoners serving life without parole.

 Louisiana spends less on local inmates than any other
state.

 Nearly two-thirds of Louisiana's prisoners are
nonviolent offenders. The national average is less than
half.

In the early 1990s, the state was under a federal court
order to reduce overcrowding, but instead of releasing
prisoners or loosening sentencing guidelines, the state
incentivized the building of private prisons. But, in
what the newspaper called "a uniquely Louisiana twist,"
most of the prison entrepreneurs were actually rural
sheriffs. They saw a way to make a profit and did.

It also was a chance to employ local people, especially
failed farmers forced into bankruptcy court by a severe
drop in the crop prices.

But in order for the local prisons to remain profitable,
the beds, which one prison operator in the series
distastefully refers to as "honey holes," must remain
full. That means that on almost a daily basis, local
prison officials are on the phones bartering for
prisoners with overcrowded jails in the big cities.

It also means that criminal sentences must remain stiff,
which the sheriff's association has supported. This has
meant that Louisiana has some of the stiffest sentencing
guidelines in the country. Writing bad checks in
Louisiana can earn you up to 10 years in prison. In
California, by comparison, jail time would be no more
than a year.

There is another problem with this unsavory system:
prisoners who wind up in these local for-profit jails,
where many of the inmates are short-timers, get fewer
rehabilitative services than those in state
institutions, where many of the prisoners are lifers.
That is because the per-diem per prisoner in local
prisons is half that of state prisons.

In short, the system is completely backward.

Lifers at state prisons can learn to be welders,
plumbers or auto mechanics - trades many will never
practice as free men - while prisoners housed in local
prisons, and are certain to be released, gain no skills
and leave jail with nothing more than "$10 and a bus
ticket."

These ex-convicts, with almost no rehabilitation and
little prospect for supporting themselves, return to the
already-struggling communities that were rendered that
way in part because so many men are being extracted on
such a massive scale. There the cycle of crime often
begins again, with innocent people caught in the middle
and impressionable young eyes looking on.

According to The Times-Picayune: "In five years, about
half of the state's ex-convicts end up behind bars
again."

This suits the prison operators just fine. They need
them to come back to the "honey holes."

Furthermore, the more money the state spends on
incarceration, the less it can spend on preventive
measures like education. (According to Education Week's
State Report Cards, Louisiana was one of three states
and the District of Columbia to receive an F for K-12
achievement in 2012, and, this year, the state, over
all, is facing a $220 million deficit in its $25 billion
budget.)

Louisiana is the starkest, most glaring example of how
our prison policies have failed. It showcases how
private prisons do not serve the public interest and how
the mass incarceration as a form of job creation is an
abomination of justice and civility and creates a long-
term crisis by trying to create a short-term solution.

As the paper put it: "A prison system that leased its
convicts as plantation labor in the 1800s has come full
circle and is again a nexus for profit."

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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