Is There a Movement Conservative Push to Privatize Parole?

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.

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4 Responses to Is There a Movement Conservative Push to Privatize Parole?

  1. Misaki says:

    Just think of a prison as a way to keep people from being poor and unemployed. At least this way they are justified in criticizing “the system”, instead of having to try to accept that they are somehow supposed to make a living in the poor employment environment which has arisen in the US with no significant attempts to address this by the government or the economists who are supposed to have been able to advise the government on how to avoid the problem.

  2. Robert Sloan says:

    I have written extensively – some would claim prolifically – on these same issues for a number of years now and ALEC’s involvement in mass incarceration. I have identified the profiteers, their methodology and the groups they belong to that assist them in pursuing obscene profits off of such mass incarceration. Last year I pointed out that while claiming they are now all for reversing the trend of incarceration begun by them – that has brought many states to near bankruptcy just to pay the costs of imprisonment – Conservatives have begun to call for “reforms” to release some prisoners and to divert others to lower costs. However, their way of doing that is to enact legislation allowing prisoners to be made to post expensive bonds in lieu of parole. In the end all they will have done is call for abolishing government provided parole on the state and federal level, to replace that with a system that allows ALEC’s long time member, the American Bail Coalition to reap huge profits off of necessary and needed releases of prisoners. For ALEC and all of their corporate members, reaping the financial whirlwind is the only goal – and using our lawmakers (2,400 of them ALEC members) with weak character and a lack of morals to gain those financial rewards from taxpayer dollars has now worked for them for more than 30 years.
    ALEC should become a name that goes down in American political infamy, in the same manner as some of their Alumni: Tom DeLay, Newt Gingrich, Gov. John Kasich, Gov. Scott Walker, Paul Weyrich, John Boehner and Eric Cantor.
    Join us at Exposing Alec in New Orleans in August to protest their current and past efforts of advancing their corporate agenda over the needs of the people. You can also read much more on this and other ALEC “Initiatives” at Exposing ALEC:
    Bob Sloan
    Prison Industry Consulting and Investigations

  3. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to ask if there was anything the right doesn’t want to privatize?

  4. Rita says:

    Who owns, i.,e., profits from/by, the bonding entities? What is the fee charged by these private “prisons” for admitting, or RE-admitting a prisoner? Early release of dangerous criminals virtually ensures 1) the payment of a large bond penalty, from which some corporation benefits; 2) the payment of a new admissions fee; and 3) often, a resulting longer sentence for a repeat offense which obviously extends the length of time the corporation is paid.

    This darling of the Right Wing–an unregulated market–is a blatant theft of taxes as well as a cynical perpetuation of of crime through the profit-making of early release of criminals into the population that wants them off the streets. The people these corporations are loosing on taxpayers who pay them are people who rape and murder children and other helpless victims. They are people who commit home invastions, theft, assaults of all kinds–people who murder your kids for their tennis shoes.

    And the most bizaare thing about any of this is the Right Wing citizens who rage against crime and “bleeding hearts” but gladly send their tax dollars to champion corporate profit-by-any-means. They want to imprison the boy who steals the tennis shoes and hang medals on the CEOs who release him early for their own profit.

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