This is your state economy on (the War on) Drugs

10 Dec 2008 05:25 pm
Posted by: Donna

I woke up this morning thinking about Arizona’s budget woes and why conservatives are always willing to take the hatchet to education, health, and social programs but never want to take a serious look at spending on corrections.   Arizona spends 9% of our general fund on prisons, “one of the highest proportions in the nation”. Seems that such a large expense would be ripe for an examination of ways that it could be trimmed, not just to save money but also to divert people from being trapped in a vicious cycle of offending, incarceration, and recidivism. Of course, any real examination of the issue also requires a discussion of drug policy and the rapid growth of the private prison complex.

One of my fave blogs is Pandagon and my fave blogger on it is Amanda Marcotte, who is a wryly brilliant young author and social commentator. I guess Amanda was thinking the same thing I was today. Her post is about how a wily anti-drug war crusader busted some crooked cops in Odessa, TX. Amanda’s take on the drug war is spot-on, from the way it functions as a modern-day Jim Crow, to how the private prison industry lobbies to get more customers inmates.  Not to mention what hypocrites most conservatives are about what government spends money on.  They never have a problem spending money on the poor and the brown so long as it’s to blow them up in wars or lock them up in jails. 

As I was poking around looking for information on private prisons, I came across this article. It’s a good debunking to local Republican pols’ claims that private prisons save money. There’s some good quotage by former Rep. Tom Prezelski in it, too.

Rep. Tom Prezelski, D-Tucson, said his biggest problem with the private prison industry is that it creates a system where it’s not in the company’s interest to rehabilitate.

“They’re essentially making money off crime, so how can we trust them to want these prisoners to return to society when an increase in crime rate is good for business?” he said. “I don’t think it’s healthy.”

There were few surprises in the article but the ones there were were doozies. I don’t know how I missed it, but apparently there was actually debate over whether to build a private prison to incarcerate illegal immigrants in Mexico. I’ll leave it to the reader to ponder the logic of that. And Jack Harper (R-ent Seeker) wanted all future increases in the prison population to be absorbed by private prisons.

Sen. Jack Harper, R-Sun City West, introduced a bill earlier this session that would have asked voters to amend the Arizona Constitution to require any increase in the state’s prison population to be housed in privately operated prisons. The strike-everything amendment failed after some debate in the Senate.

The article explains how when private prison companies claim that they do the job cheaper than public facilities they are leaving out some important information, like the way they place caps on medical care of inmates and pass any higher costs onto the public. Which inflates the cost figures for the public corrections side.

But by far the most impactful way private prisons keep their costs down and profits up is the way they cherrypick what inmates they get. They get to reject violent offenders and those with serious mental or medical issues.  This seems to parellel the problem with the private health insurance system, where private insurers keep certain types of people (i.e., the kind who might need health care) off their rolls and then claim that they are keeping health care affordable. It’s also the same kind of sleight-of-hand the “school choice” people pull.  They tell us that we need vouchers because private schools spend less per pupil than public ones. They conveniently leave out all the expenses (meals, transportation, uniforms, textbooks, etc) that public school districts routinely cover and private schools don’t. They also neglect to mention that private schools don’t have to accept any student, while public schools do. 

Where drug policy fits handily into the business model of private prisons is that you couldn’t ask for an easier way to assure a continuous supply of the type of bodies that you want to fill your cells, than to have harsh laws against drug use. Then there’s the added bonus of taking advantage of prison labor. I’d wager the private prison industry is one of few that is salivating over the worsening economy. More people turning to mind altering substances to numb themselves from their lack of career prospects and more people committing the kind of petty crimes that get them locked up in private prisons. What a win-win for them. And it doesn’t even require bringing back indentured servitude or debtor’s jails!

So yeah, don’t expect any meaningful action from the Republican Governor and Legislature on prisons or drug policy. That gravy train is just too good. Just realize that when they’re cutting funding to your kids’ education, it’s not like they don’t have future plans for them.

1 Comment(s)

  1. Comment by Meghan Furst on June 29, 2012 11:04 pm

    I realize this article is a few years old – but it’s spot on. I never really understood how they made money off of the “War on Drugs”. I always thought it strange that the penalties were so harsh for having just a bit of coke or whatever.

    I hate drugs myself – but, I understand how the poor & bored could get hooked up on them. Now I know the reasons for the so-called war is to perpetuate the prison industry. What a corrupt government system we have.

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