Alabama’s state prisons are at 192% capacity & under federal investigation for poor conditions & abuse of prisoners. Conditions in county jails are even worse. State Senator Cam Ward spent the last year warning about a federal takeover of state prisons and predicts that the Legislature will be forced to take action during the next session if the state wants to avoid that scenario:
You know we love to proclaim ourselves to be a state that prides itself on the 10th Amendment but we would really be disregarding that pride we have if we totally let the federal courts come in and take over our prison system, and I think that’s what’s on the verge of happening. So I think we have to step up and make some bold political choices or else we’re going to have a third or fourth of our general fund budget controlled by the federal government.
Prison reform won’t be easy and it will take money, but Alabama’s a state that recently discovered a $700 million hole in the state budget. So where will the money come from?
Ward quite reasonably suggests starting with sentencing reform:
For example, it costs you $41 a day per inmate to put in the state prison… however, I could put that same nonviolent offender into a community corrections facility and it costs you $11 a day. Why wouldn’t you take a nonviolent offender, save $30 per day per inmate putting them in a community corrections facility where they have to work and basically pay back their restitution, as opposed to putting them into a $41 a day lockup that quite honestly does nothing but create a masters’ degree in criminals?”
Unfortunately, some in the Alabama legislature never saw a problem that couldn’t be solved by throwing money at corporations, and the industry already has a privatization advocate – John Zierdt, Jr. – traveling the state holding public meetings on prison reform.
John Zierdt Jr. is an advocate for privatization and suggested the state examine how similar arrangements, specifically with the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), are working in neighboring states.
“I think they offer a very good solution,” Zierdt said. “It’s a good solution for us because you don’t have to do capital expenditures. It’s something I think really needs to be looked at.”
Public Good vs Private Profits
In Alabama, when the public good gets in the way of private profits, public good usually ends up as a grease spot on the pavement. Private prison companies know about the problems in Alabama prisons & they’d love nothing more than to take over our state prison system.
That’s not hyperbole: in 2012, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) sent letters to 48 states offering to buy their prisons. The company asked for a 20-year management contract and assurance of at least 90% occupancy.
Alabama legislators are masters at short-term thinking. Anything that gets them safely past the next election cycle (like a $1 million special election to allow them to loot the state savings account) is likely to gain more favor than a reasonable, long-term solution that costs now, but pays off in the future.
And a short-term infusion of cash money in exchange for Alabama’s prisons could well prove irresistible to our tax-phobic governor & GOP supermajority. Even if they don’t go quite that far, it’s more than possible that private companies could be brought in to manage public facilities.
With this in mind, we’ve been researching the issues surrounding prison privatization in America. The modern version began during the 1980s and the trend is accelerating sharply. Stay with us this coming week as we kick off our seven-part series: Profit & Politics in Prison Privatization
Read the entire series:
- Part 1: Profit & Politics in Alabama Prison Reform
- Part 2: History of Prison Privatization – Making Crime Pay
- Part 3: Who Profits from Prison Privatization?”
- Part 4: Private Prisons & Government – A Revolving Door of Influence & Insiders
- Part 5: Sweetheart Contracts Fill Beds & Pad Profits
- Part 6: Prison Shouldn’t Be A Picnic, But Also Shouldn’t Be A “Hell on Earth.”