While New Mexico’s landscape may make the state the Land of Enchantment, its rapidly growing rates of incarceration have been utterly disenchanting. What’s worse, New Mexico is at the top of the nation’s list for privatizing prisons; nearly one-half of the state’s prisons and jails are run by corporations.
Supposedly, states turn to private companies to cope better with chronic overcrowding and for low-cost management. However, a closer look suggests a different rationale. A recent report from the Montana-based Institute on Money in State Politics reveals that during the 2002 and 2004 election cycles, private prison companies, directors, executives and lobbyists gave $3.3 million to candidates and state political parties across 44 states.
According to Edwin Bender, executive director of the Institute on Money in State Politics, private prison companies strongly favor giving to states with the toughest sentencing laws—in essence, the ones that are more likely to come up with the bodies to fill prison beds. Those states, adds Bender, are also the ones most likely to have passed “three-strikes” laws. Those laws, first passed by Washington state voters in 1993 and then California voters in 1994, quickly swept the nation. They were largely based on “cookie-cutter legislation” pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), some of whose members come from the ranks of private prison companies.
The series The Cape didn’t quite live up to the hype of it’s publicity campaign and was canceled( maybe David Kelly will call Keith David to come over and work on Harry’s law. It could use a little of his energy to liven things up and he’d be a good foil for Tommy Jefferson). Though it did bring up a timely issue. The consequences of privatizing all or parts of our justice system. When the police or prisons are privatized the goals of those institutions change. They are primarily concerned with profits rather than justice. Money can be like methamphetamine, get a taste and you’re addicted. Even what would be an otherwise well meaning organization can become corrupt. As in the case of the California prison guards union,
In California, the prison industry is the fastest growing industry around. In fact, if you want to talk about pure political muscle, there is no lobby quite as strong as the prison lobby. Consider what the prison guard’s union has helped to accomplish in the last 20 years. They have increased tenfold the number of inmates in prison, they have increased exponentially the number of prisons, they have backed numerous draconian laws to ensure that more and more people go to prison for longer and longer for doing less and less.
The prison union has done more than that, though. They have also leaned on politicians to ensure that only district attorneys are appointed as judges. In the administrations of Governors Duekmeijian and Wilson (16 years total from 1982-1998), and even Gray Davis, judges were overwhelming chosen from the District Attorney’s office. Thus, the judiciary is filled with law enforcement, with an agenda of putting away as many people as possible, no matter how much we have to subvert the laws to do it.
There are two things you have to do to be elected to high office in any state. One is not to be seen as soft on crime. Three-strike laws are mindless and draconian. They appeal to politicians and police because they do away with having to think, explain or engage in subtle debate on what actually deters crime and how much time someone should serve for a crime. The second thing required of local politicians, especially running for state office, is the requisite photo-op with law enforcement. If you do not have an endorsement from a local sheriff or the highway patrol or some similar entity, you’re probably going nowhere in your political ambitions. So whether law enforcement takes its cues from corporate mouth pieces like American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) or the California prison guards union the result is a push to fill cells. It does get a little complicated. There is some justice in the mix. Lots of bad people belong in prison and we’re all better off when they become guests of the iron door hotel. Though lots of people are sent to prison who do not belong there and some that have sentences which are way out of proportion to any harm done to society. In general I tend to agree with Mark Kleiman, that it would be better if we could streamline the justice system to see swift sure justice and shorter sentences. Not the crime pays system for corporate interests, the politicians who easily succumb to corporate cash and prison guards who corrupt the whole concept of having unions. The latter a truly dark irony in that unions themselves were born out of the quest for social justice.
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911 – The original caption reads, “Fire fighters try to put out the 1911 catastrophic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Building which killed 146 workers as a result of looked doors and missing fire escapes.” Copyright Underwood & Underwood/CORBIS
Except for the photo I don’t have much new to add to the many good news essays and blog posts already written. Nancy Goldstein at Prospect, Preserving the Triangle Factory Fire’s Lessons, 100 Years Later
It’s a time to honor and mourn the Triangle’s victims, commemorate the tragedy’s importance as a turning point in the history of the American labor movement, and reaffirm the crucial role of unions and regulatory bodies in advancing worker rights. Both are taking a beating in America’s 21st-century iteration of the Gilded Age, as industrialists (hello, Koch brothers) paired with the craven politicians who do their bidding (greetings, Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Scott Brown, et al.) take another pass at ridding our country of all those nasty laws that protect consumers and workers, and cut into their bottom line.
The Koch brothers are heroes to some people. The strange logic goes that they create jobs. Not really, the workers who drive the trucks, work in the factories, who run the oil platforms, who package the products and the workers who buy their products make the company run and create jobs. If the Koch brothers dies tomorrow the work would go on. Our corporate aristocracy is the most disposable part of our economic system. That is one of the reasons we have a right-wing and libertarian noise machine. To convince everyone that that without these plutocrats we’d all be pure lost souls. Outsourcing Tragedy: On the 100th Anniversary of Triangle Shirtwaist, Workers Are Still Dying in Garment Factory Fires
Unfortunately, we do not need to look back a hundred years to contemplate the horror of garment workers falling from the high floors of a burning factory. The last such nightmare befell workers barely 100 days ago, on December 14, when thirty workers were killed and more than a hundred injured at a factory producing for Kohl’s, JC Penney, Target, Wrangler, Phillips-Van Heusen, Oshkosh, Gap and others.
The sad irony on this centennial of the Triangle tragedy is that the abusive conditions, poverty wages and shoddy garment industry safety practices that unions and social reformers decried in 1911 have not been eliminated. They have been outsourced.
You can watch the PBS documentary Triangle Fire free on-line.