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On the Evils of Privatizing America’s Prison System

In contemporary political discourse there is a fierce debate over the privatization of America’s penitentiary system. The late Michel Foucault in his book Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison articulates the foundations with which the penitentiary system first took root. It is not my intention to offer an analysis of Foucault’s argument, but I am interested in engaging in an ongoing discussion concerning the morality of privatizing the penitentiary system.

The private nature of a corporation is based on and fueled by the exchange of goods or services for capital. In effect, consumers pay for a service or a product. The question, then, one must ask is whether in the privatization of the penitentiary system  investors and shareholders are providing either a service or a product. There are those that argue what is readily apparent, that is, shareholders are providing a service, and that service is the incarceration of human beings. Others, however, namely proponents of the rehabilitative facets of incarceration, argue that the product is a fully rehabilitated and productive member of society, once the prisoner has been freed.

It is my view that either argument for the privatization of the penitentiary system based on service or product is fundamentally flawed. First, if one were to assume the stance that the privatization of the penitentiary system facilitates providing a service, insofar as potential criminals are incarcerated, then one must also recognize that the same market conditions that apply to any market, including this market of privatizing the prison system must also, therefore, apply. Thus, market conditions necessitate that the market will always seek the lowest bid for the highest level of service, which presents the problem of the quality of service rendered.

For example, in the growing demands for neoliberal outsourcing of labor, a corporation would best serve its shareholders if it could outsource its domestic labor, which is clearly less cost effective, to international laborers and thereby increase their profit margins in the cost saved to employ an international labor force. This has become a fairly standard practice. Now, if we translate that concept of outsourced labor to our current discussion of the privatization of America’s penitentiary system, then I can assure you that the next logical conclusion that will surely follow is outsourcing our penitentiary system.

There is a difference, however, in discussing the outsourcing of say customer service agents, which replaces domestic representatives with international ones, and physically outsourcing human beings to serve their incarceration abroad. Though this would make a fascinating fictional account, it is unnerving to recognize just how close to reality these prospects are.

Human beings, unlike products, often reject any and all attempts at objectification. Granted, there is more than one exception to this claim. However, as the philosopher Immanuel Kant noted we are to be treated as an end and not as a means to an end. What Kant is suggesting is that we are ends-in-themselves. We are to be treated as autonomous human beings irrespective of the crimes we have committed (a further claim that is extremely controversial).

On the one hand, the suggestion that the privatization of the penitentiary system benefits us insofar as it provides a service necessitates a terrible volatile discussion on the outsourcing of human beings. It would be the end of the career of any politician who endorsed such a view. On the other hand, human beings are not products and to attempt to objectify their existence for a return on capital is a morally and ethically unacceptable.

About Jason J. Campbell

  • Judy

    After living in California all my life, having born 6 sons and have 24 grandchildren I am somewhat qualified I feel to make a statement about Prisons, and the incarceration of people in the state of California. For as long as I can remember people have litterly put “their heads in the sand” concerning our prison system. Even family’s who have experience the long incarceration of a loveone still refuse to acknowledge the fact that Prisons are one of our countries largest and most lucative industries.
    One of my sons have spent nearly his entire life behind the walls of Youth and adult prisons. He was 10 years old when his first commitment was for letting air out of a neighbors tire. This was the beginning of a long life living in and out of prisons. Dealing with his incarcerations and the problems I experience trying to retrieve his life out of the system for years has help give me a inside veiw of our prison system. There is no and I mean no Rehabilation!!! The prison system from the time a youth offender enters the institution process, becomes part of a larger order whereby the offender is identified as a commodity, used to enhance the pocket’s of the investors who have bought stock in human salvery. Company’s like Merle Lynch, Walmart, etc. etc. use the prison industry to manfacture products on a massive schedule, cheaper and less costly than it would be in a free society. Fenders have jump on the Band Wagon and offer their products to the prisons and inmates, charging high prices to the inmates and their families. The fenders are contracted by the system,therefore families and inmates have no other alternative but to purchase products from these contract fenders at a much higher cost. This puts a strain on families who want to help and support a loveone while incarcerated. Recently a new Jail was built in the desert (Calimesa). It will housed 7,000 offenders and most will not be released but will be later convicted and sent to prison. Recently I had a conversation with an attorney about our prison system. She said she was shock to fine how many prisons have been built in California alone. Right now I think it stands at 33, maybe more because just as soon as you think you have the right number another one is built, just like the new jail. The prisons are built in towns or places where the employment is low. When people need jobs and a way to meet the needs of a family a new prison comming into their area means employment, no questions are ask “Why here?”. The only thought is JOBS. The building and maintaining prisons create jobs and that is why the Correctional Officers Union is one of the most powerful unions in the nation. Prisons are and will be a luricative business and powerful lobby until people in our society wake up and say “Enough is Enough”. Otherwise we are looking at a society that will be comprised of the WORKER BEES, (prisoners)and the QUEEN BEE, (goverment).

  • paulwhoispablo

    Judy,

    An excellent comment, and thank you for sharing.

  • Brunelleschi

    Agree, that’s heavy duty Judy.

    Best of luck to you and family.

    Once a slave nation, always a slave nation…

  • Baronius

    #63: “How is prison privatization evil?”

    #65: “Why is a connection with profit unholy?”

    #161: “There are lots of strongly-held sentiments expressed on this board – about the incarceration rate, the drug war, et cetera – but no one’s demonstrated that private prisons are worse than public, and no one’s argued that they’re immoral, other than by implying that earning money in public service is immoral.”

    Pablo, I may have not used the word “justice”, but I’ve clearly been looking at the subject in terms of right and wrong. I’m just not persuaded that privatization of prisons is necessarily wrong.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ Roger Nowosielski

    Pablo,

    Why don’t you withhold your thoughts on the matter before I come up with a response? It’s not that I don’t want you to beat me to the punch; but if you are on the right track insofar as this issue is concerned, then perhaps you might take away some of the sting. So let’s plan on a more thorough discussion in a few days. Is it OK by you?

    Roger

    PS:

    Besides, I don’t want to be influenced by your ideas as I’m in the process of finishing up. I’d like my work to be as germinal as can be. After that, we can have fun.

  • Judy

    After reading my statements regarding our prison system, I realize I should have proof read before I sent it on to all of you. Please forgive my spelling like fenders instead of venders. I can only use the excuse that my age and eyes have an overwhelming reason for mistakes I make while commenting to any articles I read. Not to mention senior moments I have at the ripe old age of 69. Looking foreward to reading more articles concerning Prison issues.

    God Bless to all
    Judy

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ Roger Nowosielski

    Judy,

    Nothing to apologize for. I’m about to offer a critique shortly, based in principle rather then the usual factual arguments. I hope you’ll revisit the site again and offer further comments.

    Roger

  • Cindy D

    Thanks for that post Judy. Real people offering real experience is my only hope for anything leading to change.

  • paulwhoispablo

    Ok Roger

  • Brunelleschi

    Group hug for Judy.
    Hang in there!

  • Cindy D

    :-)

    (smiles are comments akismet)

  • http://jasonjcampbell.org/blog.php Jason J. Campbell

    Click here to read about private prison abuses.

  • Cindy D

    Jason,

    That abuse by private prison article was important. Thanks. I posted that on my blog.

    If you come across any others can you let me know? TY

  • http://jasonjcampbell.org/blog.php Jason J. Campbell

    Sure thing Cindy.

  • Cindy

    Fresno police beat homeless man: Caught on Tape

    This is recent. This seemed like the best place to put it.

    (wonders if Dr.D saw this on TV)

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ Roger Nowosielski

    Another welcome addition to the arsenal. Great news for supporters of private prisons:

    U.S. judges admit to jailing children for money.

  • Dustin

    I would beg to differ. If you believe that your rights are unalienable, then I could understand how you formed your opinion. Rights being unalienable is just a myth, it is and idea, and a bad one at that. Once someone commits a crime against another person, they alienate themselves from certain rights. If you steal you alienate yourself from property for the sake of repayment of the loss. If you kill someone, you alienate yourself from your right to your own life. I am against capital punishment, however, that doesn’t mean life long capital loss isn’t in order. Life is concidered priceless. The only thing that can be done for victims is to give them some form of retribution. Currently, the government steals the retribution from the victims, with the exception of civil court. Government tells you that when a murderer is killed on death row the victims families can have closure. Yeah right. There is never closure. If someone steals my identity, the fact that they are caught does little to ease my mind. Retribution does. Privatization is a evolutionary step for mankind. Anarchy is not always chaos, anarchy with a lack of planning is.