Question from the UK: Why is the American right closing prisons?

In response to an article by RICK MUIR PUBLISHED 18 APRIL 2013 11:58 in the “New Statesman”

As conservative parties in nations across the pond attempt to emulate America’s Right Wing policies and initiatives, Rick Muir questions if replicating the “NEW” U.S. stance on imprisonment and criminal justice is warranted.

Mr. Muir accurately depicts many of the changes U.S. states are making to reduce the number of Americans imprisoned.  He reports on efforts of diverting drug offenders from prison through community rehab and court programs, stopping new construction of prisons and understanding that locking up non-violent offenders is costly and does nothing more than create a revolving door for first offenders to return time and again throughout their lives.

However in reporting that it is the GOP or Right Wing pursuing proposals that have long been advocated by liberals and progressives, he failed to fully connect the dots on where and how this mass incarceration began – and who stands to profit from these proposed changes to America’s criminal justice system.

It began with the ultra right think tank, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the late 1970’s. They got together with corporate interests and wrote legislation that began a trend that turned 1970’s 338,000 incarcerated into today’s 2.3 million. They crafted minimum mandatory sentencing laws, truth in sentencing, three strike and habitual offender laws.  They helped abolish parole and wrote more legislation to require convicted offenders serve 85% of imposed sentences.

Once the laws were written by ALEC and wholeheartedly backed by President Reagan in pursuing his “war on drugs”, ALEC wrote more legislation to allow private companies to begin to profit off imprisonment.  They wrote the Private Correctional Facilities ActPrison Industries Act and the Uniform Bail Act.  

The first was to authorize states to allow ALEC’s corporate members, Corrections Corporation of America, and Wackenhut (now Geo Group) to begin operating private prisons to house the huge numbers of new prisoners that arose due to the harsh laws written to imprison.  

The second written to create a low wage workforce accessible by private companies for manufacturing – and to allow these companies to lease publicly owned prison industrial facilities for as little as a dollar a year.

The third was written to require all bonding of those charged with criminal acts to be accomplished by commercial bonding companies at substantial fees.  This was to enrich ALEC’s long time member, the American Bail Coalition.

What all this did was to industrialize imprisonment and create a large conglomerate of companies realizing huge profits off imprisoning, working, feeding, providing healthcare, canteens and phone services to America’s incarcerated.  This defines and represents ALEC’s form of “Free-market”, “federalism” and “limited government” principles.  By turning humans into commodities with pre-determined shelf lives, ALEC was able to create a criminal justice industrial complex where private companies could capitalize and reap billions in profits off incarcerating the most individuals possible.

This new prison industrial revolution begun by ALEC and the ultra right drove up the costs of criminal justice from mere millions in 1970 to nearly $75 billion in 2011 (Geo and CCA raked in $2.9 billion of this in corporate income).  These billions in dollars are taken directly out of taxes paid by Americans.  Over the years state by state had to begin cutting education, healthcare programs, social welfare and similar programs to continue to increase spending on imprisonment.  In 2000 many states finding nothing left to cut to continue paying for housing and caring for more and more prisoners, began to look for ways to reduce the costs of incarceration itself.  They turned away from rehabilitation and began cutting education programs for prisoners.  Then vocational training went, then counseling and drug and alcohol programs and finally, recreation.  None of these reductions sufficed, prison continued to overflow and for every dollar saved through cutting important programs, that dollar and one more were needed to pay for more privatization.

Finally in 2010 many state authorities – even those considered solidly and forever conservative Republican – realized changes in criminal justice systems had to be made.  States verged on bankruptcy due to the continued increase in prison population and the costs associated with imprisonment.  Only then did the Right Wing fully understand that their “tough on crime” agenda advanced over the past 30 years was responsible for the dire financial position of state governments.  ALEC members and alumni such as Newt Gingrich formed a new “Right On Crime” organization (a joint project with the Texas Public Policy Foundation and prison fellowship). now stating that they had been wrong for years and that it is time to “right the ship” and begin thinking smart about crime.  Of course the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Prison Fellowship are ALEC members or supporters.

The first thought went to creating a new “product line.”  They turned to immigrants as a means of continuing to capitalize off prison beds that were beginning to sit vacant.  Americans out – “illegal immigrants” in…and at a higher per diem cost per inmate.  Because the federal government paid higher daily per diems for holding immigrants than paid for incarcerating prisoners the profits would increase.  So ALEC with the help of CCA crafted SB 1070 and introduced it in Arizona.  Once it became law, it has been redirected to dozens of other U.S. states and CCA and Geo Group (though no longer members of ALEC) secured more and more contracts to house immigrants and increase their profits exponentially.

In essence those who created mass imprisonment to enrich investors and company owners through corporatism were now going to step forward and provide a “solution” to the problems they created.  This has always been the ALEC and ultra-right meme; create a faux problem and then provide the perfect solution.  Once again ALEC member companies would profit off the new “Right on Crime” initiative…ALEC member, Prison Fellowship Ministry would reap huge grants and donations to offer reentry programs for offenders released from prison…the American Bail Coalition who had profited for years off bonding of criminals would also begin to see increased profits through a new ALEC initiative: the Conditional Early Release Bond   This legislation would allow prisoners to seek parole through posting a bond to the state to ensure they would not reoffend.  Of course this bond is provided to the state by a surety company represented by the ABC and for a commercial fee.

So in essence the new “Right on Crime” project represents another ALEC initiative. Being right on crime does not mean being “Smart on Crime.”  We need to get ALEC and their members completely out of our criminal justice system.  They have incarcerated enough and profited way too much off incarceration.  Today the UK is where America was in the 1990’s, pushing for longer sentences, more incarceration and to use inmate labor for manufacturing and labor for private companies.  America has already begun to realize those concepts are taking American worker’s jobs and the cost of incarcerating someone for 5 years for possessing a joint of marijuana is completely insane and too costly.

Hopefully those non-conservatives in the UK can convince politicians over there that following in America’s path is not always the best course to chart.

Read Rick Muir’s article <- HERE ->