To continue the discussion we started, I want to bring up another point from the Justice Policy Institute’s new report, Gaming the System: How the Political Strategies of Private Prison Companies Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies (summary).
While discussing the role right-wing think tanks and institutions play in organizing political agents and setting the goals for the movement, they mention the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC, founded by Paul Weyrich of Heritage), a movement conservative think tank associated with free markets, limited government and individual liberty. They go through how they spent the 1980s and 1990s aggressive pushing three-strike and truth-in-sentencing laws at the state level.
ALEC has since moved to the private prison game. In line with the idea that we can’t do good public policy that helps people without bribing the rich and powerful, the JPI report mentions this: “a 2007 brief by ALEC recommended releasing people early from prison with conditional release bonds, similar to bail bonds, effectively setting up bonding companies as private parole agencies.”
Really? Trying to privatize parole? Going to ALEC’s document in question, The State Factor, they state it even more boldly:
Conditional Post-Conviction Early Release would rely on performance bonds and security or indemnity agreements to keep participants from committing new crimes and assure their prompt return to custody should they misbehave…Best of all, the program would rely on the proven success of the private bail bond industry, rather than the proven dysfunction of the government run parole and probation system, by requiring families and communities to take some responsibility for future acts of the person who is displaying signs of trouble….
Participants would be released from confinement under the terms and conditions of a performance bond. The bond would require a surety, (financial guarantor) by a qualified insurance company. The terms and conditions of the performance bond would have to be fully met at all times in order for the participant to remain in society…
The financial penalties of the bond would create strong incentives on the part of the surety and the indemnitors to see that the participant abides by all the releasing authority’s conditions of release or else be promptly surrendered back into custody, thereby guaranteeing low recidivism….
This type of early release program is revolutionary because of its reliance on private entities instead of the government. This program would utilize the techniques that have made the private bail bond system superior to the government’s “revolving door” justice system….For many years, ALEC has educated its members on the benefits of enlisting the private sector in the effort to reduce crime…
The public administration element of certain things the government does is important, even essential, to those goods. Publicness emphasizes accountability, voice, transparency, rules and claims using reasons that go beyond the self. The private market emphasizes cost-benefit thinking, exit, closed proprietary profit-seeking strategies, bargaining and the satiation of individuals wants; good things in some circumstances but not when it comes to the disciplinary powers of the state. We emphasize the disinterested judgement of our system of laws and punishments and try to eliminate the ability of trucking and bartering, the acts of buying and selling, to ultimately sway the course of criminal justice. It’s naive to think that this is a hurdle that we ever clear; it’s insane to make this the focal point of the system.
What does this even accomplish? Anything other than the trifecta of using law to line the pockets of influential private interests, while allowing the well-off to use money to buy their way to freedom earlier and putting more economic strain on the poor, already under economic pressures that lead to recidivism?
So much of the Obama administration, and indeed the act of US governing in the 21st century, has involved buying off any potential objection to sound public policy. In order to do good policy some private entity needs to get a cut. Chris Hayes once made an excellent analogy of current liberal politics as being akin to an aid worker debating whether or not to pay a local mafia boss protection money on behalf of a struggling person, and this kind of left-wing Public Choice seems relevant to keep in mind as prison reform might move onto the agenda. It’s worth watching how the private prison industry is going to go about finding all kinds of ways to get a cut if and when states move to try and reduce their prison populations in the next decade.