The Criminal Justice Industrial Complex: Seeking Transparency Through Revelation

By Bob Sloan

Like the military/industrial complex, the criminal justice industrial complex is an interweaving of private business and government interests. Its twofold purpose is profit and social control. Its public rationale is the fight against crime.  To accomplish the goals the public must be made to fear their neighbors, fellow employees…to walk in a public park or to the corner store.  If the public is not made to fear all these things, they will not acquiesce to spending billions in tax dollars on more and more police, more judges, jails or prisons.

The business niche created to profit from imprisoning fully 5% of all Americans has become hugely rewarding.  Companies have pumped billions into expanding “system-gulag” here in the U.S. to generate similarly huge rewards in profits and investor dividends.  Companies such as Corrections Corporation of America have provided an incentive and way for the “small” individual investor to share in the wave of money made off of incarceration in all it’s forms.  Corporations long ago learned that to enable such schemes it was important to get the word “fear” – and what to fear – out to the public.

To accomplish this, those being made wealthy off incarceration diversified and began to buy media outlets; a newspaper here, a radio or tv station there, digital media was created and is now controlled by a handful of such individuals.  Now entire broadcast networks are owned by criminal justice entrepreneurs and they keep Americans fearful and willing to spend billions to overcome that fear…billions that flow smoothly into company coffers and can be used to continue to expand and enlarge revenue streams. Surrounding this criminal justice industry is a curtain that keeps society’s eyes from penetrating a web of intentionally created disinformation.  Think tanks such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have been swept into the fold and used to craft and lobby for ever harsher laws, longer sentences and to “legalize” more privatization efforts.

All of this has been rolled into a cabal of companies, individuals, organizations and institutes dedicated to keeping the criminal justice industry functioning flawlessly and generating ever growing profits.  Articles and studies sometimes written by those who have had a taste of this industry from the inside, are kept from the public by the mainstream media refusing to print them.  Even when alternative outlets publish such articles and attract attention, the MSM immediately goes all out to discredit the facts given and the author.  In just such a non-MSM posting from “Transmissions”, the truth about the criminal justice industry was eloquently and factually stated back in 2001.  Don’t look for the subject or discussion reported by the MSM over the last dozen years, you won’t find it.  I’ve taken the liberty of quoting from that decade old article here:

“Not so long ago, communism was “the enemy” and communists were demonized as a way of justifying gargantuan military expenditures. Now, fear of crime and the demonization of criminals serve a similar ideological purpose: to justify the use of tax dollars for the repression and incarceration of a growing percentage of our population. The omnipresent media blitz about serial killers, missing children, and “random violence” feeds our fear. In reality, however, most of the “criminals” we lock up are poor people who commit nonviolent crimes out of economic need. Violence occurs in less than 14% of all reported crime, and injuries occur in just 3%. In California, the top three charges for those entering prison are: possession of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance for sale, and robbery. Violent crimes like murder, rape, manslaughter and kidnapping don’t even make the top ten. Like fear of communism during the Cold War, fear of crime is a great selling tool for a dubious product. As with the building and maintenance of weapons and armies, the building and maintenance of prisons are big business. Investment houses, construction companies, architects, and support services such as food, medical, transportation and furniture, all stand to profit by prison expansion. A burgeoning “specialty item” industry sells fencing, handcuffs, drug detectors, protective vests, and other security devices to prisons…

Research shows that many of the hundreds of companies holding memberships in ALEC, the NCIA, American Correctional Association or other affiliates, have been involved and raking in money off of incarceration in several ways.

“…Communication companies like AT&T, Sprint, and MCI are getting into the act as well “ gouging prisoners with exorbitant phone calling rates, often six times the normal long distance charge. Smaller firms like Correctional Communications Corp., dedicated solely to the prison phone business, provide computerized prison phone systems” fully equipped for systematic surveillance. They win government contracts by offering to “kick back” some of the profits to the government agency awarding the contract. These companies are reaping huge profits at the expense of prisoners and their families; prisoners are often effectively cut off from communication due to the excessive cost of phone calls…

In February of last year CCA’s extensive lobbying contributions to Florida’s Governor Scott and the GOP led legislature in an effort of privatizing the state’s entire southern prison system, failed.  In response, CCA distributed a letter to all Governors offering to buy their state owned prison facilities.  This proffer included terms that CCA would have an exclusive 20 year contract for managing and operating each facility and requiring the state to guarantee to keep the prisons at 90% of capacity during the term of the contract.

ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections “Task Force” is responsible for writing nearly every law that has been adopted nationwide to incorporate Three Strike (Habitual Offender Act), Mandatory Minimum sentences, Truth in Sentencing, Private Correctional Facility ActTargeted Contracting for Certain Correctional Facilities and Services Act,  Prison Industries Act…all to incarcerate more men and women, keep them in prison for the longest term possible and to replace parole with “privatized parole” in the form of a “Conditional  Early Release Bond Act” to allow profiting off the release of offenders prior to end of sentence completion.

“… Like any industry, the prison economy needs raw materials. In this case the raw materials are prisoners. The prison/industrial complex can grow only if more and more people are incarcerated even if crime rates drop. “Three Strikes” and Mandatory Minimums (harsh, fixed sentences without parole) are two examples of the legal superstructure quickly being put in place to guarantee that the prison population will grow and grow and grow…

It is no longer a “U.S.” effort.  This cabal or network of companies and investors micro-managing the criminal justice industry have realized the potential for an additional windfall of profits if expansion to the EU, UK, Poland, New Zealand, Australia and beyond can be accomplished.

“Correctional Corporation Of America, one of the largest private prison owners, already operates internationally, with 48 facilities in 11 states, Puerto Rico, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Under contract by government to run jails and prisons, and paid a fixed sum per prisoner, the profit motive mandates that these firms operate as cheaply and efficiently as possible… The basic transnational corporate philosophy is this: the world is a single market; natural resources are to be exploited; people are consumers; anything which hinders profit is to be routed out and destroyed. The results of this philosophy in action are that while economies are growing, so is poverty, so is ecological destruction, so are sweatshops and child labor. Across the globe, wages are plummeting, indigenous people are being forced off their lands, rivers are becoming industrial dumping grounds, and forests are being obliterated. Massive regional starvation and “World Bank riots” are becoming more frequent throughout the Third World.

Today the same cabal that created initiatives to outsource American jobs to foreign countries for cheap labor,  tax breaks and the ability to not pay taxes on foreign income, are hard at work here in the U.S. – again, led by ALEC – and working hard to take their network international.  They have been writing and lobbying for legislation to end collective bargaining, union organizing, to restrict or abolish minimum wage requirements and eliminate union dues – worldwide.

All over the world, more and more people are being forced into illegal activity for their own survival as traditional cultures and social structures are destroyed. Inevitably, crime and imprisonment rates are on the rise. And the United States law enforcement establishment is in the forefront, domestically and internationally, in providing state-of-the-art repression. For private business, prison labor is like a pot of gold. No strikes. No union organizing. No unemployment insurance or workers’ compensation to pay. No language problem, as in a foreign country. New leviathan prisons are being built with thousands of eerie acres of factories inside the walls. Prisoners do data entry for Chevron, make telephone reservations for TWA, raise hogs, shovel manure, make circuit boards, limousines, waterbeds, and lingerie for Victoria’s Secret. All at a fraction of the cost of “free labor.

Prisoners can be forced to work for pennies because they have no rights. Even the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which abolished slavery, excludes prisoners from its protections.”

The influx of manufacturing and service jobs to nations such as China has led to the creation of working or middle classes in those countries, just as it did in America in the middle of the 20th century.  Wages of these foreign nations have been climbing, labor has begun to organize and CEO’s of companies that have been created due to the integration of American manufacturing in their nations, have begun to seek – and receive – larger and larger salaries and benefits.  The cabal has realized it is no longer logistically possible to continue to manufacture overseas and transport products back to the U.S. due to increasing labor, utility and other costs associated with overseas production.  These rising costs cut into profits and have caused many of these labor-exploiting companies to contemplate a return to the U.S. with their manufacturing.

In order to do this, American worker’s wages must be controlled.  Through hidden legislation they have found a way to bring their manufacturing needs back to America and do it in a way that provides a huge, silent, captive and hugely underpaid workforce: prisoners serving sentences in state and federal prisons.  Through authorization from Congress in 2011 UNICOR secured the ability to participate in the Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP).  This allows all federally owned and operated prison factories the ability to “partner” with private companies, lease them manufacturing space and provide adequate labor via inmate workers.

Along with this new authorization came another “innovative” program titled: Repatriation.  Repatriation as used in this context is the return of U.S. manufacturing jobs to America – under a provision that products no longer made in the U.S. by American companies (or that a company says “may be moved offshore”) can be brought back to the U.S. by those companies.  The products will be made within the industrial facilities of the federal prison industries (UNICOR) by federal prisoners. at wages of between $.23 and $1.35 per hour:

“Federal Prison Industries — also known by the trade name UNICOR — is a self-sustaining, self-funding company within the US Bureau of Prisons. It is owned wholly by the US government and was created by an act of Congress in 1934 to function as a rehabilitative tool to teach real-world work skills to federal inmates. These inmates were historically limited to producing goods for government use, such as furniture, uniforms, even, believe it or not, components for Patriot missiles. “Indeed, FPI/UNICOR’s 2012 annual report states that the board of directors “has approved 14 pilot programs for repatriated products.”  It also details “substantial losses” incurred and asserts that “inmate employment levels have dropped precipitously.” To be sure, not every job being reshored will be filled by an inmate. But according to the report, “FPI anticipates these pilot projects will assist in further reducing its losses,” which would logically induce the Bureau of Prisons to funnel as much business as possible to its 109 existing UNICOR factories, which currently employ just over 21,000 inmates.”

Today with minimum wage jobs disappearing and no longer available to those without degrees or diplomas, work for young men and women has become harder to find.  Employers can pick and choose who to hire and how much they’re willing to pay in wages.  A young Black or Hispanic man with education but few skills, has little value to employers…but they do to the criminal justice industrial complex.  With each new admission to a private prison, taxpayers fork over an average of $32,000 per year for housing, feeding, medical care and clothing. Because of this, poor people of color are being locked up in grossly disproportionate numbers, primarily for non-violent and drug possession crimes. On average they serve 3.5 years of a 5 year sentence for the first offense.  Meals, health services and transportation needs, canteens, personal clothing and banking have all been outsourced so in addition to the private prison company, several other private companies profit off of providing those “services.”

Drug, alcohol and other counseling and rehab programs have been cut.  Education – especially higher education – have all been eliminated and no longer available to prisoners.  So there is no real effort of rehabilitation.  Instead they rely upon the possibility of a job paying as little as $20.00 every other week to keep prisoners behaving in the hope of getting such work – eventually.  And when they’re finally released it is back into the same community with now even fewer jobs and for the ex-convict with a record, any hope of acquiring work to support themselves or even a small family is nonexistent.

In this manner the cycle of incarceration is begun and becomes perpetual.  Those invested in incarceration continue to rake in huge profits as more than 6 out of every 10 prisoners released return to prison within 3 years and are put back to work churning out products and generating income for investors and corporate owners who reinvest their earnings by contributing to campaigns of those legislators responsible for creating more laws, harsher and longer sentences and other means of profiting off human miseries. As the article linked to above, “Prisons are Big Business” informed readers over a decade ago:

As “criminals” become scapegoats for our floundering economy and our deteriorating social structure, even the guise of rehabilitation is quickly disappearing from our penal philosophy. After all: rehabilitate for what? To go back into an economy which has no jobs? To go back into a community which has no hope? As education and other prison programs are cut back, or in most cases eliminated altogether, prisons are becoming vast, over-crowded, holding tanks. Or worse: factories behind bars.  And, prison labor is undercutting wages –something which hurts all working and poor Americans.

Those among our society who have supported “tough on crime” legislation and adopted the “lock ’em up and throw away the key” mantra have helped enrich those individuals and companies profiting off the hard earned tax dollars spent on incarceration.  That philosophy has to be stopped by citizens realizing how they have been manipulated by the MSM and others reaping huge rewards from imprisonment.  To those involved in incarceration, it is no longer a moral or societal duty, it has become a business and like any other business, it exists to make a profit for owners and investors.

Profiting off the misery of fellow human beings is immoral and creates the incentive to imprison more – for additional profit.

VLTP would urge readers to help us battle this means of widening the gap of inequality in our culture and society.  Spread the word about profiting off incarceration, the use of prisoners to rob us of our jobs and how this “system” has developed and works against us all.  Contribute to support our continued research, studies and reporting on this topic.  We do not have paying memberships, receive no corporate contributions or government grants to support our work.  You could not receive a better return for your investment in our work and your society.