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Archive for September 1st, 2010

(the Gulag, cont’d.) Politics,Policies,Prisons : The Business of Detention (Case study)

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I’ll be honest. I am VERY concerned about how far down the Road to Serfdom we already are.

Why spend all that energy on human rights, civil rights, legal rights, due process, when who one is dealing with is a calculating policymaker/investor (the door rotates in and out of private and public sectors) who knows a good — business- deal when he (or occasionally, she) sees one?

I found “Corrections Corporation of America” and the Lamar Alexander (Tennessee) connection. I retain a lot of information upstairs, even though words may come out crossed occasionally. I notice anomalies. Or just things that interest me. When I looked at the richest Congresspersons roll, long ago, and the Obamas came out 10th (probably 2008), counting assets, and spouses assets as well — Mr. Alexanders interest in a huge work-site Child Care provider made an impression (see comment to most recent post). OK, so why would someone so interested in child care also be interested in prisons?
The topic of lockup relates to family court matters because violation of law, or contempts, or crimes, obviously could lead there. My research process is real simple. I google, read, and pay attention. It’s not rocket science.

I recognize good reporting when I see it. (A few awards doesn’t hurt either). Too bad more court reform people wouldn’t form the investigative journalism, FOIA, and looking at the Financials habit that these Columbia University journalism grads did:

Business Of Detention Home

Washington, D.C. – CCA plays the game of politics like a pro. After all forty percent of its revenue comes from federal contracts.

The company backs key politicians who support an immigration crackdown, and has intensified its lobbying in order to influence those still on the fence. For good measure, it hires former prison and immigration officials to coordinate its federal relations.

(from interactive graph on site, slide 3 of 4). Notice, graph source is from “opensecrets.org”, another good resource.

“The rest of CCA’s political giving went directly to lawmakers who determine detention funding through their positions on the appropriations committee in the House and Senate. In 2008, the committees approved a $2.3 billion budget for ICE detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants, including funds for an additional 4,870 new beds. More than half the senators backed by CCA’s PAC are on the appropriations committee, and four of them are on the subcommittee on Homeland Security.”

Maybe some mothers and fathers who want Family Court Reform ought to spend a little more browsing (and submitting testimony) time on the House Ways and Means Committee, where many programs affecting the courts are. (see some of my posts). CCA knew right where to go to get their policies through.

One CCA-backed appropriations committee member deserves special mention. Former Tennessee governor, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) received $31,200 from 2003-2008 from the Nashville-based company and its employees, spouses and their subsidiaries, according to Federal Election Commission documents. Alexander’s history of supporting CCA includes endorsing its failed bid in 1985 to take over the Tennessee prison system.

In the House, CCA’s PAC gave $5,000 to Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), who sits on the Subcommittee on Homeland Security Appropriations. Another $2,500 went to fellow committee member John Carter (R-TX) who is also on the Committee on Homeland Security. Carter’s district is where CCA’s T. Don Hutto family residential center is located. He is a major advocate for “a system of 100 percent catch and return.”

Republican members of the House Immigration Reform Caucus reaped CCA’s support for backing the Secure America though Verification and Enforcement Act. The Act calls for expediting “the removal of illegal aliens by expanding detention capacity.

I have a question. Suppose, very hypothetically, all illegal aliens (that’s people…) WERE removed? Then what about all that prison capacity? Hmmm??? Maybe another Kids for Cash scenario? (As if aspects of the child protective services, and foster care incentives, and child support agency system(s) weren’t already this…)

WELL, some people – shareholders — wanted to know what was going on with all this money:

In 2007, the company fought a shareholder resolution that requested semi-annual reports on the company’s political contributions and expenditures.

“Absent a system of accountability, corporate executives are free to use company assets for political objectives that are not shared by and may be inimical to the interests of a company and its shareholders,” argued Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary Investment Program, who introduced the failed measure to force CCA to disclose payments it makes to trade associations, political recipients and soft money entities such as 527s.

To influence lawmakers who did not receive direct donations, CCA has spent millions on lobbyists. They got what they asked for.

And we even got a corporate (CCA) counsel taking a spin at a judgeship in Tennessee. That should help:

CCA’s general counsel, Gustavus Puryear IV, could give the revolving door another turn. Puryear made headlines this year when President Bush nominated him for a federal judge seat in the Middle District of Tennessee, where CCA is headquartered. Puryear has worked as a speech writer for Vice President Dick Cheney. He testified during a Senate hearing that he would recuse himself from cases involving the company.

WELL, this is just a flavor. Not only does this subject matter overlap with family court, but take note of these TWO students’ masters’ thesis project.  The same principles apply in organizations which are close to the federal faucet through HHS (see “What Decade Are These Stores?” post.). I notice that the Loop21.com article noticed a n Arizona connection. (bottom of last post)

from their ABOUT BD link — and I also added this link to my blogroll:

Our desire was to create an innovative way to present the business of privatized detention services — using solid reporting skills and pairing that up with video and interactive info graphics. This was also an experiment for us in creating a platform for a news product, that largely went under reported in mainstream news when we started the Corrections Corporation of America investigative project in late 2007. That project became the first investigative-new media project for the University and has since won the Melvin Mencher Award for Superior Reporting and James A. Wechsler Award for National Reporting, and a finalist at the 2009 SXSW Interactive Awards.

This link is to a “money.cnn” report focusing on Arizona, where a bid was made to privatize the entire state’s prisons.

According to research firm IBISWorld USA, private corrections is a $22.7 billion industry with an annual growth rate in the last half-decade of 4.7%. While growth slowed from 2009 to 2010, projections for the industry remain largely optimistic.

The prison population continues to grow regardless of what the economic conditions are,” says George Van Horn, senior analyst at IBISWorld.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of federal inmates housed in private facilities jumped nearly 14% between 2000 and 2007, and nearly 6% between 2007 and 2008.

Even so, the federal government nor any other state has gone as far as Arizona has in the march toward prison privatization. Last fall, Governor Brewer signed a law calling for the privatization of all the state’s prisons, should a private contractor offer an upfront bid of $100 million. This March, the law was repealed because no private company made a bid.

A prison too far?

But with the recent escapes, officials in Arizona and elsewhere have started to question the use of private correctional facilities. When Arizona’s privatization bill passed, the state’s director of corrections, Charles L. Ryan, took the unusual step of writing a letter to Governor Brewer expressing concern.

“[The bill] seeks to attempt something never experienced in the nation: Privatizing a state’s entire prison system. This is bad public policy,” the letter read.

“This escape has put everything in stark relief,” says Goddard. “A private company has an acceptable level of loss. In the case of violent offenders, I don’t believe the public does or should tolerate any incidence of failure.

Gulag Archipelago, Bahrain Archipelago — Systems to Silence Dissent

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I often call the Family Law system an “Archipelago,” referring to the networked system that ensnares families.

My other, kind of ridiculous analogy, includes the Giant Squid, lurking in the depths, but with many tentacles, and the nightmare of a ship at sea and sailors’ dreams. When you experience multiple tentacles through this system, the only way to mentally/emotionally grasp the whole is by flexible imagery, it’s a SENSING.

Just in case, someone missed the reference:

June 16, 1974

The Gulag Archipelago


THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO. 1918-1956. An Experiment in Literary Investigation, 1-11.
By Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn.
Translated by Thomas P. Whitney.
By Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn.
Translated by Hilary Sternberg.

Most books about the experience of holocaust, especially those written by survivors, have two purposes. One is to chronicle the full horror of the holocaust, to sear it into the collective consciousness, so that it may never recur. The other is to explain the historical origins and causes of that experience.

The Gulag Archipelago” is a non-fictional account from and about the other great holocaust of our century–the imprisonment, brutalization and very often murder of tens of millions of innocent Soviet citizens by their own Government, mostly during Stalin’s rule from 1929 to 1953.

. . .

Solzhenitsyn has recreated the history between 1918 and 1956 of “that amazing country of Gulag which, though scattered in an archipelago geographically, was, in the psychological sense, fused into a continent–an almost invisible, almost imperceptible, country inhabited by the zek people [prisoners]”. . .Archipelago refers to the far-flung system of forced labor camps run and augmented by the secret police and its institutions, whose prisoner population grew from small numbers after the revolution of 1917 to 12 to 15 million (about half “politicals”) at any one time by the 1940’s. Gulag is the acronym of the central office that administered the penal camps


June 18, 1978

The Gulag Archipelago


THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO:1918-1956. An Experiment in Literary Investigation. Volume III.
By Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn.
Translated from the Russian by Harry Willetts.
KOLYMA: The Arctic Death Camps.
By Robert Conquest.

e have known about the Russian purges,” Edmund Wilson wrote in 1971, “but we have not really been able to imagine them.” The writer who, more than any of his contemporaries, decisively changed this situation, giving the world an epic account of the suffering and destruction Russia has endured under its Communist leaders and giving it in the most concrete, most moving, most classical human terms is Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn.Solzhenitsyn who has restored a human face, a recognizable human substance and spirit, to the swollen, faceless statistics of the Soviet holocaust. If, after “The Gulag Archipelago,” we are still unable to imagine what the Soviet reign of terror and death signifies, both for its millions of victims and for us, too, in the precarious comfort of our freedom, it is because we do not want to–because we cannot bring ourselves to face the worst about the politics of our century and the murderous morals of our species.

Solzhenitsyn was one of the many millions in Russia forced by political circumstance into facing the worst as a daily experience. Altogether he has spent 11 yeas of his life in prisons, concentration camps and in exile in the Soviet Union, and now lives in Vermont, in permanent and involuntary exile from his native land. In 1945, at the age of 26 and while serving as a decorated artillery officer in the Red Army, he was arrested for having made some unflattering remarks about Stalin in letters to a friend. It was thus as a zek–a convict in the vast “archipelago” of Russia’s concentration camp system–that Solzhenitsyn was confirmed in his literary vocation. “Prison released in me the ability to write,” he tells us in this new volume, and even after his release–for Solzhenitsyn was among the lucky ones–the moral fire that ignited his literary endeavors in the first place, giving purpose to a condemned existence, continues to rage in every word he writes.

Under the most extreme and intolerable conditions, Solzhenitsyn made himself into the great rememberer of Russia’s terrible ordeal–made of memory itself both a literary medium and an instrument of survival.

You see that “instrument of survival…” — you see this blog, the some of the links on my blogroll, others in this system? This current system doesn’t compare — I THINK — but it sure is headed that way, and becoming an ACCEPTED practice in the USA and overseas, Thought Police is no joke, really.

Combining history and anecdote, analysis and polemic, with searing vignettes of so many doomed lives made all the more eloquent by the author’s intense empathy, his fiery sarcasm and moral fury, Solzhenitsyn’s “Gulag” is the kind of book that permanently alters the way we perceive the world in which we live. No one who reads through its many blood-stained pages can ever be quite the same again–can ever again read a newspaper, listen to a political speech or look upon then political and human circumstances of his own life with quite the same complacency and comfort. It is a book that leaves a permanent scar on the reader’s soul.

. . . requires a strong stomach–and something else, too: a moral commitment of the sort that few writers nowadays require of their readers-

You cannot help a situation you can’t stomach even being aware of, naming, or seeing. This is how much abuse gets ignored. There’s an innate alienation to emotionally protect onesself from the (truth) that the world just ain’t fair, AND that “time and chance happen to us all.” No, it must have been something about the victim’s fault, and the “But that’s THEM, and not US” scenarios kicks in, even when it’s someone close to the person. I understand this. It’s a daily balance from being paralyzed by awareness of what DOES and CAN happen, right here, now (not referring to this historical piece) and from realizing that one’s conscience canNOT accept a “back to business as normal,” again.

WIKIPEDIA contributes — and would I miss a chance to mention this? Of course not.

He was raised without a father. Must’ve been at risk of a horrible life because of that (and not wars, political changes, or purges. No, healthy families have two parents. WELL then, with this formula, how does one explain such an author? Or is there ANOTHER reason for this policy in the US, and the Family Court Archipelago here, and overseas?

The Gulag Archipelago has sold over thirty million copies in thirty-five languages. It was based upon Solzhenitsyn’s own experience as well as the testimony of 256[29] former prisoners and Solzhenitsyn’s own research into the history of the penal system. It discussed the system’s origins from the founding of the Communist regime, with Lenin himself having responsibility, detailing interrogation procedures, prisoner transports, prison camp culture, prisoner uprisings and revolts, and the practice of internal exile. T

“In 1918, Taisia became pregnant with Aleksandr. Shortly after her pregnancy was confirmed, Isaakiy was killed in a hunting accident. Aleksandr was then raised by his widowed mother and aunt in lowly circumstances. His earliest years coincided with the Russian Civil War. By 1930 the family property had been turned into a collective farm.

Later, Solzhenitsyn recalled that his mother had fought for survival and that they had to keep his father’s background in the old Imperial Army a secret. His educated mother (who never remarried) encouraged his literary and scientific leanings and raised him in the Russian Orthodox faith;[5] she died in 1944.[6]

In the BAHRAIN ARCHIPELAGO (physical island chain)

Human Rights Issues in a small island nation:

Yesterday’s post blogged a custody case of a woman and child from Arizona trapped in Bahrain in a custody dispute. Bahrain is an “archipelago.” I showed the NASA photo, and found multiple Human Rights Watch articles on Woman and Child Abuse there. Portugal and Great Britain had their time in its history, divisions between Shi’ite majority and Sunni minority reverse (from what I can tell) the rest of the world’s status, and women only got the vote in 2002. It’s considered more liberal than some of it’s neighbors, and is home to what will be (is?) the WORLD’s longest bridge, from Qatar peninsula to the tiny Bahrain main island. Not the best place for a foreign-born woman to be trapped in a custody dispute!

HERE is an article “Women Don’t Need to Accept Polygamy” (currently that doesn’t seem true, but it presents issues)

And Amnesty International Documented in 1994-1996, increasing abuse of women and children in suppressing civil unrest:

Since 1994, the Government of Bahrain has responded to civil unrest with widespread arbitrary arrests, apparent extrajudicial killings, imprisonment of prisoners of conscience, torture and the death sentence, the first to be carried out in almost 20 years. The government has also continued a policy of forcible exile of its own nationals, sending whole families out of Bahrain, or banning their return if suspected of opposition political activity abroad.
December 1994, there was an alarming, unprecedented increase in human rights violations in Bahrain following widespread pro-democracy demonstrations. For the first time, women and children as young as nine or ten years old were targeted for arrest and many were reportedly ill-treated in custody. For many women, this was the first time they had engaged in an active and vocal participation in public protests, a shift from their traditional role away from the public arena.
{{Protest – Retaliation. Women and children participating, speaking out, took a real hit: the goal being to quell and suppress, ESPECIALLY if this population was going to mobilize. Even more so if this belies religious traditions. U.S. has its religious influences also, in human rights violations against omwne and children in the courts, and in abuse of children in the penal / juvenile system. We ARE the world’s largest jailor, but do things a little differently undert the form of government…}}
Groups of women also wrote petitions to the Amir urging the restoration of democracy, and led demonstrations calling for the release of their menfolk and of all political prisoners. Children also joined the protest movement, staging sit-in strikes in schools and participating in street demonstrations which sometimes developed into clashes with security forces. The government dealt with both these groups by arresting them arbitrarily, holding them for extended periods in incommunicado detention and often ill-treating or torturing them during investigation. International standards addressing the particular vulnerabilities of women and children and rules regarding their detention and trial were consistently violated.
Amnesty International recorded the Bahraini Governments violations of human rights in a report entitled Bahrain: A Human Rights Crisis (AI Index MDE 11/16/95), issued in September 1995. The report detailed a number of cases in which women were held in incommunicado detention for months at a time before their release without charge or trial. As with most other detainees, the women were deprived of their right to contact their relatives or a lawyer during their detention period.

{{they were in islands of their own}}

A number of them were subjected to beatings and threats for allegedly [1] having participated in demonstrations or [2] for attempting to prevent the arrest of their male relatives. Some women were arrested and held as hostages in order [3] to coerce male relatives to hand themselves over to the authorities, while others were detained [4] apparently as a punishment for the opposition activities of their male relatives, who were either detained or had evaded arrest. It would appear that some women were also detained [5] in order to deter other women from joining public protests.”

{{Pause to reread the above paragraph — the various PURPOSES for beating and threatening these women. It didn’t always even related to anything they personally had done.}


National Identity. Bahrainis self-identify as part of the Arab world. There are tensions between the Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims, and religious affiliation is of primary importance in defining one’s identity.

Ethnic Relations. Expatriates constitute 20 percent of the population. They come mainly from other Arab nations but also from India, Pakistan, Southeast Asia, Europe, and America. While relations are not unfriendly, foreigners generally are not integrated into Bahraini society. The vast majority are temporary workers and thus constitute a transient population.

Leadership and Political Officials. Political parties are prohibited, but there are several small underground leftist and Islamic fundamentalist groups. The main opposition consists of Shi’a Muslim groups that have been active since 1994, protesting unemployment and the dissolution in 1975 of the National Assembly, an elected legislative body.

Social Problems and Control. The legal system is based on a combination of Islamic law and English common law. Most potential laws are discussed by the Shura council before being put into in effect.


Division of Labor by Gender. Women are responsible for all domestic work, and few are employed outside the home (only 15 percent of the workforce is female). This is beginning to change as more girls gain access to an education, and foreign influence has modified traditional views of women’s roles. There are no women represented in the government.

Relative Status of Women and Men. In the Islamic tradition, women have a lower status than men and are considered weaker and in need of protection. Bahrain has been more progressive than other Arab nations in its treatment of women. The first school for girls was opened in 1928, nine years after the first boys’ school.

What about Here? What about, now, today, the U.S.A. — are we an island in the world, with our Bill of Rights and Constitution, and legislative, judicial, executive branches of government, and just a bit of distance between the states and the feds? (less and less so each administration….). Do we have ROYALTY? Do we have RIGHTS?

Define “we.”


Incarcerated Teens testify about abuse in private prisons

Mon, 08/30/2010 – 10:24

Incarcerated youth give testimony of abuse: Private Prisons Part 3

Two teens share their harrowing experiences of sexual assault in juvenile detention facilities

By: Brandale Randolph | TheLoop21
Mon, 08/30/2010 – 10:24

After my last piece on Private Prisons, I got several nerve shattering responses. Inmates from prisons all over the country were sending me direct messages and tweets about the piece but what jarred me the most is that I received several messages from kids who had been housed in juvenile detention centers. Still, nothing could prepare me for the conversations I had with several teens who are currently in juvenile detentions centers. Of those, three were housed in privately owned and operated facilities.

For the purpose of this post, I selected one male and one female juvenile inmate. The third juvenile did not say much, we got to a point in the conversation when I heard her cry. Out of respect for the things that she told me, I erased the recording.

Two teens share their harrowing experiences of sexual assault in juvenile detention facilities

Male and Female, they are getting raped, and know better than to protest to the guards, some of who participate

Private Prisons — Modern-Day Plantations

Corrections Corporation of America is making millions, some from prison labor

By: Brandale Randolph | TheLoop21
Mon, 08/16/2010 – 00:00

African Americans comprise more than 40 percent of all of the inmates in American. Many of the crimes that have lead to our incarceration are non violent. Crimes such as grand theft, drug possession, prostitution etc., that many see as norms in our community are feeding the worst beast of the prison industrial complex, the private prison.

Private prison companies are literally making billions off the incarceration [of] African Americans. L

Let’s look at, the Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA for short. CCA is the largest private prison corporation in America. With 60 facilities and more than 85,000 beds, they are the fourth largest corrections system in the nation, only the federal government and three states are larger.

Last week, on Aug 5th, CCA announced its quarterly earnings, for the three-month period between April and July it earned a reported $419.4 million. In other words over last three months. That’s along with $414 million reported in the 1st quarter, or $833 million in the first six months of 2010.

Yes, despite the poor economy and reports of dozens of inmate dying because of poor health care and inmate abuse, CCA continues to generate billions of dollars.

However, the revenues generated by CCA do not include just the tax revenue paid by states and the federal government to house inmates. Like other private prisons, CCA generates money from prison labor. Under the guise of vocational training, CCA hires inmates to perform construction duties, law enforcement dog training, and even software testing for Microsoft. All at a fraction of the cost of using labor outside the walls.

In 2008, there was a phenomenal article in Mother Jones by Caroline Winter, “From Starbucks to Microsoft: a sampling of what US inmates make and for whom.” According to the article findings, inmates process food including beef and chicken, packing for Starbucks and even lingerie for Victoria’s Secret.

The larger threat is that CCA spends money on political campaigns as a lobbying organization. For example, let’s look at its involvement in Arizona’s SB 1070.

According to a Phoenix news report a few days ago, CCA donated money directly to the gubernatorial campaign of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. Moreover, the company receives more than $11 million dollars per month from the state of Arizona. Also according to this report, two of Gov. Brewer’s top advisors have ties to CCA. Paul Senseman, her deputy chief of staff is a former lobbyist for CCA and his wife is now a current lobbyist for the company. Chuck Coughlin one of her policy advisors and campaign chairman, owns the company that currently lobbies for CCA.

I decided to look up this CCA, and found a 2000 “CORPWATCH” article that calls the Private Prison Complex a “Gulag.”

Note: My laptop is slow, and frequently loses text before it’s saved. This is exceptionally frustrating — yesterday, I lost probably 2 hours of work, background on Bahrain — which is why it’s on today’s post. The other part of the word “wait” is some days, simply watching a little “processing” symbol spin around and load a page. Graphics rich pages, such as from TheLoop21.com, are painful to load; guilt tends to kick in at this point for even blogging.

While on this topic: NONE of this blog was done from a regular, home PC. I had a laptop, which was stolen, briefly. Then probably a half year of (back to the libraries) (being car-less), and recently laptopped again — only a older, slower one. So be thankful for whatever comes out cohesive and coherent. Most times, I am looking at a single screen maximum 2 paragraphs visible at a time. Printing is another project. So all in all, perhaps it symbolizes the trouble also being stuck in the courts — basic infrastructure is hard to maintain, and forget it for a current generation of electronic equipment, whether computer, phone, or mechanical, such as transportation.

How could any system which so systematically removes work time from adults be in the interest of children? And the instability of it over time is reflected in parents’ ability to retain jobs and social connections.

We are heading towards world-wide slavery, it seems.

Many (noncustodial) mothers I know, active in protesting and seeking reform, speak eloquently on the human face of the suffering. Others also speak of the legal abuse, and psychological devastation of ongoing threat of losing one’s children, or hope of seeing them again, or being caught (liek the author, above) speaking “in appropriately” and thrown in jail, or being gagged, with the threat of jail, if they don’t comply. As I, too, have become alienated from a normal work life, not through economy, but through the courts, after dysfunctional/violent (which came first?) marriage, and similarly dysfunctional institutions willing to do anything about the violence, I have become more aware of, and personally know mothers who’ve become shadows of their former severals, women who have gone to jail attempting to protect a child, and women who have been threatened with jail if they don’t shut up (“Gag order”). I don’t want to think about how many homeless women I know who got that way after a custody switch, or women who are not homeless, but paying their former batterer.

In addressing this, people protest the indignity and the travesty of human rights, legal rights, and common sense.

WELL, some attitudes are NOT common to all, and better acknowledge it sooner.

FAR FEWER are willing to analyze the common CENTS (more like $$) economically that are behind the system. Some do, but how many people do you know that are willing to become the next Irving Fine ? Or will take their chances, and start to subpoena major organizations’ bank accounts, tax records, and insist that answers be given?

If it’s gut-wrenching and and too much to stomach, hearing about the outrage of children and juveniles being raped, without anyone stopping it, of a complete dual system of enforcement of court orders, and no recourse when failure to arrest still results in unnecessary deaths, LOTS of them, then why not look at some “dry” figures, some analyses, and get really outraged?

The bottom line is the bottom line. We all have our personal, legal ones, but the systems in this country (and extending globally) are political/economic. THEIR bottom line looks a lot different.

Remember, in any relationship, there are two points of view, and two “bottom lines.” When the government power to incarcerate is involved, and combined with this same government’s IRS agency (similar powers) to take and reallocate income — not just people — we have to take a look at their books, and who cooked up the business plan.


US: America’s Private Gulag

by Ken SilversteinPrison Legal News
June 1st, 2000

What is the most profitable industry in America? Weapons, oil and computer technology all offer high rates of return, but there is probably no sector of the economy so abloom with money as the privately run prison industry.

Home » Issues » Privatization

US: America’s Private Gulag

by Ken SilversteinPrison Legal News
June 1st, 2000

What is the most profitable industry in America? Weapons, oil and computer technology all offer high rates of return, but there is probably no sector of the economy so abloom with money as the privately run prison industry.

Consider the growth of the Corrections Corporation of America, the industry leader whose stock price has climbed from $8 a share in 1992 to about $30 today and whose revenue rose by 81 per cent in 1995 alone. Investors in Wackenhut Corrections Corp. have enjoyed an average return of 18 per cent during the past five years and the company is rated by Forbes as one of the top 200 small businesses in the country. At Esmor, another big private prison contractor, revenues have soared from $4.6 million in 1990 to more than $25 million in 1995.

Ten years ago there were just five privately-run prisons in the country, housing a population of 2,000. Today nearly a score of private firms run more than 100 prisons with about 62,000 beds. That’s still less than five per cent of the total market but the industry is expanding fast, with the number of private prison beds expected to grow to 360,000 during the next decade.

The exhilaration among leaders and observers of the private prison sector was cheerfully summed up by a headline in USA Today: “Everybody’s doin’ the jailhouse stock”. An equally upbeat mood imbued a conference on private prisons held last December at the Four Seasons Resort in Dallas. The brochure for the conference, organized by the World Research Group, a New York-based investment firm, called the corporate takeover of correctional facilities the “newest trend in the area of privatizing previously government-run programs… While arrests and convictions are steadily on the rise, profits are to be made — profits from crime. Get in on the ground floor of this booming industry now!”

A hundred years ago private prisons were a familiar feature of American life, with disastrous consequences. Prisoners were farmed out as slave labor. They were routinely beaten and abused, fed slop and kept in horribly overcrowded cells. Conditions were so wretched that by the end of the nineteenth century private prisons were outlawed in most states.

During the past decade, private prisons have made a comeback. Already 28 states have passed legislation making it legal for private contractors to run correctional facilities and many more states are expected to follow suit.

The reasons for the rapid expansion include the 1990’s free-market ideological fervor, large budget deficits for the federal and state governments and the discovery and creation of vast new reserves of “raw materials” — prisoners. The rate for most serious crimes has been dropping or stagnant for the past 15 years, but during the same period severe repeat offender provisions and a racist “get-tough” policy on drugs have helped push the US prison population up from 300,000 to around 1.5 million during the same period. This has produced a corresponding boom in prison construction and costs, with the federal government’s annual expenditures in the area, now $17 billion. In California, passage of the infamous “three strikes” bill will result in the construction of an additional 20 prisons during the next few years.


The private prison business is most entrenched at the state level but is expanding into the federal prison system as well. Last year Attorney General Janet Reno announced that five of seven new federal prisons being built will be run by the private sector. Almost all of the prisons run by private firms are low or medium security, but the companies are trying to break into the high-security field. They have also begun taking charge of management at INS detention centers, boot camps for juvenile offenders and substance abuse programs.

The Players

Roughly half of the industry is controlled by the Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America, (CCA) which runs 46 penal institutions in 11 states. It took ten years for the company to reach 10,000 beds; it is now growing by that same number every year.

{There’s a TN connection…}

CCA’s chief competitor is Wackenhut, which was founded in 1954 by George Wackenhut, a former FBI official. Over the years its board and staff have included such veterans of the US national security state as Frank Carlucci, Bobby Ray Inman and William Casey, as well as Jorge Mas Canosa, leader of the fanatic Cuban American National Foundation. The company also provides security services to private corporations. It has provided strikebreakers at the Pittston mine strike in Kentucky, hired unlicensed investigators to ferret out whistle blowers at Alyeska, the company that controls the Alaskan Oil pipeline, and beaten anti-nuclear demonstrators at facilities it guards for the Department of Energy.

Esmor, the number three firm in the field, was founded only a few years ago and already operates ten corrections or detention facilities. The company’s board includes William Barrett, a director of Frederick’s of Hollywood, and company CEO James Slattery, whose previous experience was investing in and managing hotels.

US companies also have been expanding abroad. The big three have facilities in Australia, England and Puerto Rico and are now looking at opportunities in Europe, Canada, Brazil, Mexico and China.

Greasing the Wheels of Power to Keep Jails Full

To be profitable, private prison firms must ensure that prisons are not only built but also filled. Industry experts say a 90-95 per cent capacity rate is needed to guarantee the hefty rates of return needed to lure investors. Prudential Securities issued a wildly bullish report on CCA a few years ago but cautioned, “It takes time to bring inmate population levels up to where they cover costs. Low occupancy is a drag on profits.” Still, said the report, company earnings would be strong if CCA succeeded in ramp(ing) up population levels in its new facilities at an acceptable rate”.

“(There is a) basic philosophical problem when you begin turning over administration of prisons to people who have an interest in keeping people locked up” notes Jenni Gainsborough of the ACLU’s National Prison Project.

{{Now we are going to talk about LOBBYING….}}

Private prison companies have also begun to push, even if discreetly, for the type of get-tough policies needed to ensure their continued growth. All the major firms in the field have hired big-time lobbyists. When it was seeking a contract to run a halfway house in New York City, Esmor hired a onetime aide to State Representative Edolphus Towns to lobby on its behalf. The aide succeeded in winning the contract and also the vote of his former boss, who had been an opponent of the project. In 1995, Wackenhut Chairman Tim Cole testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee to urge support for amendments to the Violent Crime Control Act — which subsequently passed — that authorized the expenditure of $10 billion to construct and repair state prisons.

CCA has been especially adept at expansion via political payoffs. The first prison the company managed was the Silverdale Workhouse in Hamilton County, Tennessee. After commissioner Bob Long voted to accept CCA’s bid for the project, the company awarded Long’s pest control firm a lucrative contract. When Long decided the time was right to quit public life, CCA hired him to lobby on its behalf. CCA has been a major financial supporter of Lamar Alexander, the former Tennessee governor and failed presidential candidate. In one of a number of sweetheart deals, Lamar’s wife, Honey Alexander, made more than $130,000 on a $5,000 investment in CCA. Tennessee Governor Ned McWherter is another CCA stockholder and is quoted in the company’s 1995 annual report as saying that “the federal government would be well served to privatize all of their corrections.”

In another ominous development, the revolving door between the public and private sector has led to the type of company boards that are typical of those found in the military-industrial complex. CCA co-founders were T. Don Hutto, an ex-corrections commissioner in Virginia, and Tom Beasley, a former chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party. A top company official is Michael Quinlan, once director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The board of Wackenhut is graced by a former Marine Corps commander, two retired Air Force generals and a former under secretary of the Air Force, as well as James Thompson, ex-governer of Illinois, Stuart Gerson, a former assistant US attorney general and Richard Staley, who previously worked with the INS.

Leaner and Meaner?

The companies that dominate the private prison business claim that they offer the taxpayers a bargain because they operate far more cheaply than do state firms. As one industry report put it, “CEOs of privatized companies… are leaner and more motivated than their public-sector counterparts.”

Because they are private firms that answer to shareholders, prison companies have been predictably vigorous in seeking ways to cut costs. In 1985, a private firm tried to site a prison on a toxic waste dump in Pennsylvania, which it had bought at the bargain rate of $1. Fortunately, that plan was rejected.

Many states pay private contractors a per diem rate, as low as $31 a prisoner in Texas. A federal investigation traced a 1994 riot at an Esmor immigration detention center to the company’s having skimped on food, building repairs and guard salaries. At an Esmor-run halfway house in Manhattan, inspectors turned up leaky plumbing, exposed electrical wires, vermin and inadequate food.

To rachet up profit margins, companies have cut corners on drug rehabilitation, counseling and literacy programs. In 1995, Wackenhut was investigated for diverting $700,000 intended for drug treatment programs at a Texas prison. In Florida the US Corrections Corporation was found to be in violation of a provision in its state contract that requires prisoners to be placed in meaningful work or educational assignments. The company had assigned 235 prisoners as dorm orderlies when no more than 48 were needed and enrollment in education programs was well below what the contract called for. Such incidents led a prisoner at a CCA facility in Tennessee to conclude, “There is something inherently sinister about making money from the incarceration of prisoners, and in putting CCA’s bottom line (money) before society’s bottom line (rehabilitation).”

{{Couldn’t have said it better myself:  2 bottom lines.  MONEY?  or REHABILITATION? (or whatever line someone is pushing at the public, currently}}

The companies try to cut costs by offering less training and pay to staff. Almost all workers at state prisons get union-scale pay but salaries for private prison guards range from about $7 to $10 per hour. Of course the companies are anti-union. When workers attempted to organize at Tennessee’s South Central prison, CCA sent officials down from Nashville to quash the effort.

Poor pay and work conditions have led to huge turnover rates at private prisons. A report by the Florida auditor’s office found that turnover at the Gadsden Correctional Facility for women, run by the US Corrections Corporation, was ten times the rate at state prisons. Minutes from an administrative meeting at a CCA prison in Tennessee have the “chief” recorded as saying, “We all know that we have lots of new staff and are constantly in the training mode… Many employees (are) totally lost and have never worked in corrections.”

Private companies also try to nickel and dime prisoners in the effort to boost revenue. “Canteen prices are outrageous,” wrote a prisoner at the Gadsden facility in Florida. “(We) pay more for a pack of cigarettes than in the free world.” Neither do private firms provide prisoners with soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes or writing paper. One female prisoner at a CCA prison in New Mexico said: “The state gives five free postage paid envelopes per month to prisoners, nothing at CCA. State provides new coats, jeans, shirts, and underwear and replaces them as needed. CCA rarely buys new clothing and inmates are often issued tattered and stained clothing. Same goes of linens. Also ration toilet paper and paper towels. If you run out, too bad — 3 rolls every two weeks.”

Cashing in on Crime

In addition to the companies that directly manage America’s prisons, many other firms are getting a piece of the private prison action. American Express has invested millions of dollars in private prison construction in Oklahoma and General Electric has helped finance construction in Tennessee. Goldman Sachs & Co., Merrill Lynch, Smith Barney, among other Wall Street firms, have made huge sums by underwriting prison construction with the sale of tax exempt bonds, this now a thriving $2.3 billion industry.

Weapons manufacturers see both public and private prisons as a new outlet for “defense” technology, such as electronic bracelets and stun guns. Private transport companies have lucrative contracts to move prisoners within and across state lines; health care companies supply jails with doctors and nurses; food service firms provide prisoners with meals. High-tech firms are also moving into the field; the Que-Tel Corp. hopes for vigorous sales of its new system whereby prisoners are bar coded and guards carry scanners to monitor their movements. Phone companies such as AT&T chase after the enormously lucrative prison business.

{{And you thought the concept was just science fiction, or some religious doomsayer, predicting….  NOPE!  Shades of Holocauset, much?}}

About three-quarters of new admissions to American jails and prisons are now African-American and Hispanic men. This trend, combined with an increasingly privatized and profitable prison system run largely by whites, makes for what Jerome Miller, a former youth corrections officer in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, calls the emerging Gulag State.

Miller predicts that the Gulag State will be in place within 15 years. He expects three to five million people to be behind bars, including an absolute majority of African-American men. It’s comparable, he says, to the post-Civil War period, when authorities came to view the prison system as a cheaper, more efficient substitute for slavery. Of the state’s current approach to crime and law enforcement, Miller says, “The race card has changed the whole playing field. Because the prison system doesn’t affect a significant percentage of young white men we’ll increasingly see prisoners treated as commodities. For now the situation is a bit more benign than it was back in the nineteenth century but I’m not sure it will stay that way for long.”

This article originally appeared in CounterPunch, a Washington DC-based political newsletter.

WELL, someone had to say this, and I’m not the first.  As to women, a term that continues to come to mind as to this court system was a “Jim Crow” period following some feminist gains in the 70s.  The backlash can be severe.

I remind this world that a lot of people became fatherless during WARS.

Now, we are ready to read the next post from the UK area.  This post was just an introduction which got out of hand…

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