The Big Business Called Prisons

Cover of "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarcer...
Cover via Amazon

While the country, or parts of the country, express justified rage and anger toward Rush Limbaugh and his hideous and inappropriate statements directed at Georgetown Law School student Sandra Fluke, another outrage is being allowed to move forward, quietly but steadily.

In a February 14, 2012 article posted on The Huffington Post, the story was told of how a private corporation, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is offering cash-strapped states big money for their prisons. The article, by Chris Kirkham, said,”As state governments wrestle with massive budget shortfalls, a Wall Street giant is offering a solution: cash in exchange for state property. Prisons, to be exact.”

CCA is a for-profit operator of prisons. That means the corporation, and others like it, exist because there are prisons; their financial success depends upon prisons continuing to exist and continue to be filled. According to Kirkham’s article, CCA is “a swiftly growing business,with revenues expanding more than fivefold since the mid-1990s,” as the “War on Drugs” became a major issue in America.

Harley Lappin, who retired as the head of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, is the Chief Corrections Officer (CCO) of CCA, and Board members include only one African-American, Thurgood Marshall, Jr., the son of the late United States Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall.

What’s the big deal, you ask? The big deal is that America cannot seem to let go of its plantation system. With money in the picture, as the driver of how prisons are operated, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that there is a big incentive for America to keep its prisons filled. CCA is doing business; it is not interested in rehabilitating people. In a recent letter to governors of 48 states, Harley Lappin wrote “…CCA is earmarking $250 million for purchasing and managing government-owned corrections facilities. The program is a new opportunity for federal, state or local governments that are considering the benefits of partnership corrections.”

In that same letter, Lappin said that on January 12 of this year, CCA assumed ownership and management responsibility in a transition described as seamless. This transfer culminated a process that, according to state officials, generated more than $72.7 million in proceeds for Ohio taxpayers (he was talking about the purchase of an Ohio prison),about $50 million of which was allocated for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.”

What does all of this mean? It means that the “new Jim Crow,” as Michelle Alexander has so excellently written about in her book by the same name, is alive and kicking. Who will fill the prisons? Black and brown people mostly, as has always been the case. What Alexander describes in her book as “military policing” will increase in urban neighborhoods, so as to make sure the source of profit for those who are buying the prisons, does not disappear.

Clearly, the target of prison inmates, since the Reagan Administration’s declared “War on Drugs” has been black and brown people, primarily men, who are addicted to crack cocaine. From the time the “war” began, there was money to be had for state and local law enforcement agencies for the numbers of people they arrested. Now, with this blatant “prison for profit” industry rising as one of the, if not the, fastest industries in America, there will be even more money earned on the backs of America’s black, brown, and poor people.

CCA has recently found an additional source of revenue-makers: illegal immigrants. The HP article said that CCA has found a “new opportunity in the business of locking up undocumented immigrants.” It’s business, not personal, right?

While the politicians are mouthing off about contraception, nobody talks about this unethical use and misuse of law enforcement; in fact, the very existence of this “in-your-face” modern day plantation system leads one to muse, “what law enforcement?” If the focus of arrests and imprisonments were all drug users, prescription drugs and powder cocaine as well as street drugs, there would be much less room for cynicism. As it stands, however, under the guise of “law and order” and “protecting the taxpayers,” black and brown people are disproportionately going to be the ones who help CCA and other for-profit prison corporations get wealthier and wealthier.

There is so much that goes on in this country that “we the people” know nothing about. It is by design. If we do not know, “they” can do what they want. And in this instance, that is exactly what is happening, and what has been happening since the Conservative darling Ronald Reagan declared this infamous “war on drugs.”

With the war on women being waged in this GOP presidential nominee battle, as well as the war on voting rights, primarily for black, brown and elderly voters, and this unsavory ploy to keep prisons filled with only certain offenders, it makes me wonder about all this talk about “values.” The term seems to have a very narrow focus, but then, that is nothing new. From the beginning, “we the people” was a very narrowly defined group of white, male property owners, and the fight going on today seems intent on trying to keep that vision from slipping into obscurity. Women have pounced on the attack on themselves and their rights, but black and brown people, and now, undocumented immigrants, need to pounce on the very sneaky attack being waged on their very capability to remain free and eligible to become a part of “the American Dream.”

If CCA continues to have its way, the number of black and brown people who are in reality off of the plantation will be greatly decreased, and the new “massa,” big business, will go merrily on its way.

A candid observation …

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12 thoughts on “The Big Business Called Prisons

  1. Thanks for the article. Opened up my eyes but then again I knew the prosons were full of persons of color. it will only get worse now that they are run “for profit.” As if they weren’t before…by corrupt wardens…

  2. You are spot-on on the blatant ways that descendants of the original “framers” continue to maintain the new lockdown plantation by any means necessary. That CCA has a vested interest in incarceration as opposed to rehabilitation, is just more of the same. I find it hard to believe that Thurgood Marshall Jr. could be a part of something that his father would despise. CCA feeds on and profits from a steady diet of black and brown perishables. This is more cow chip than blue chip. God is not mocked!

  3. I heard this morning that the governor of Ohio is not accepting federal dollars to help victims of last week’s tornadoes. I guess not; he’ll get his money by helping to keep the prisons filled. Ugh!
    Thank you for reading the piece and responding!

  4. There was a time when small towns did not want new prisons built in their area. Now that revenue can shoot thru the roof for a town that houses a prison, they are lining up. So I guess someone has to be the commodity for economic recovery…you can relieve high unemployment among Black folks by warehousing the most likely to be jobless.Sounds like slavery when states compete for prisoners….21st century auction block. Thanks for a great piece!

  5. Thanks for reading the piece and commenting. It hits home even more acutely for me as today I learned that our governor has refused to take federal money to help tornado victims. No wonder; he’s got a revenue stream. Makes me so mad…but the situation itself is extremely troubling.
    Thanks again.

  6. Thanks for speaking up about this atrocious situation. This nation’s moral compass seems to be broken. Of course, we must not give up hope that people of goodwill will find a way out of this wilderness. I refuse to believe that the future will not be better than the present for those suffering from injustice. Thank you for trying to be part of the solution.

  7. I had never heard of this organization, but the business of simply trying to fill the prisons instead of rehabilitating its inmates is a disgusting one. America doesn’t care about its’ people, it never has, if you’re not privileged, you don’t get so much as a second thought. Unfortunately, too often this society thrives on greed, and it’s a disease that will probably affect Americans for years to come.

  8. Little, if nothing is told of how prisons and the state’s DOC prey on families with excessive charges for services when a family member wants to maintain contact with their loved ones or provide what we all take for granted in necessities. One area is the fees charged when an inmate wants to call a family member. The most dominate company in this area is Securus Technologies. They charge up to $3 or more for a 15 minute phone call. An additional fee of $6.50 for any money placed in the account is added on. So if $25 (the minimum) is deposited their $6.50 fee is tacked on. The list of abuses on family members goes on and on as states see them as sources of revenue.

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