Why Is Louisiana The Prison Capital Of The World? Police Profit By Keeping Private Prisons Full
The $182 million private prison industry in Louisiana thrives from a system rife with conflicts of interest, not unlike the kinds found in the most corrupt third world countries. According to a scathing article this Sunday in The New Orleans Times-Picayune, the very people entrusted to enforce the law in the state have deep financial ties to the for-profit prisons, which house a majority of all Louisiana inmates.
The article states that “most prison entrepreneurs happen to be rural sheriffs,” and the “prison business model is built on head counts.”
In the early nineties, prison overcrowding had become such a massive problem for the state, that the cash-strapped government decided to forego building new state prisons, and instead encouraged sheriffs to pay for private prison construction. In return, they would, of course, enjoy a cut of all future profits. “The financial incentives were so sweet, and the corrections jobs so sought after, that new prisons sprouted up all over rural Louisiana.”
Two decades later, this now-entrenched private prison system has helped to double Louisiana’s prison population. In fact, the state wins the distinction of imprisoning more of its residents than any other legal jurisdiction on the planet.
Despite Louisiana having the highest murder rate in the country, it surprisingly “has a much lower percentage of people incarcerated for violent offenses [when compared to the national average], and a much higher percentage behind bars for drug offenses [when compared to the national average] …”
Why, you ask? Because violent criminals (murderers, rapists, armed robbers, etc) get sent to state prisons, whereas the non-violent offenders are housed at private ‘for-profit’ prisons. The sheriffs therefore have a financial incentive to find and charge non-violent offenders.
According to another recent article in the Times-Picayune, “more than half of Louisianians sentenced to state time are in the custody of local sheriffs, who must keep their prison beds full to turn a profit.” And the sheriffs are a powerful lobby force to be reckoned with. They often move to block all legislative attempts to reduce sentences for non-violent offenses, or for “shaving time” for inmates with good behavior.
But the profiteering goes even beyond the sheriffs. Sunday’s article describes the entire judicial system as being in on ‘the take':
“You have people who are so invested in maintaining the present system — not just the sheriffs, but judges, prosecutors, other people who have links to it,” said Burk Foster, a former professor at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and an expert on Louisiana prisons. “They don’t want to see the prison system get smaller or the number of people in custody reduced, even though the crime rate is down, because the good old boys are all linked together in the punishment network, which is good for them financially and politically.”
Even townships profit off the private prison industry, by charging them exorbitant fees to operate within their town borders. Some of the smallest rural towns in Louisiana are leasing their ‘prison rights’ to sheriffs and private companies for hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. And these prisons bring much-needed jobs to the townsfolk, who line up to become correction officers.
One of the biggest prison magnates in all of Louisiana, incidentally, happens to be an ordained minister, who has become filthy rich off of incarcerating his fellow citizens.
The task of putting bodies in private prison cells now impacts the livelihoods of many important people. Wardens and sheriffs work hand-in-hand, daily, to ensure the profits continue unabated:
Today, wardens make daily rounds of calls to other sheriffs’ prisons in search of convicts to fill their beds. Urban areas such as New Orleans and Baton Rouge have an excess of sentenced criminals, while prisons in remote parishes must import inmates to survive.
The more empty beds, the more an operation sinks into the red. With maximum occupancy and a thrifty touch with expenses, a sheriff can divert the profits to his law enforcement arm, outfitting his deputies with new squad cars, guns and laptops.
To fatten profits, inmates in these private facilities are offered little, if any, rehabilitation. Because “putting people in cells” is merely half the equation to this business model. Once they’ve found someone to incarcerate, spending as little money as possible on him becomes the next priority. In Louisiana, each inmate in a private prison fetches $24.39 a day in state money. The ones in state prisons fetch $55 a day.
This means the most violent criminals (housed at state facilities) — many of whom are incarcerated for life — take vocational classes, and prepare for careers they will never have, like auto mechanics, plumbing, electrical, welding, etc.
Non-violent criminals, on the other hand — sentenced for things like drug possession, theft, etc. — will get sent to a private prison where they will do little more than sit in an overcrowded 80-man cell for months or years on end, gaining no skills that might prepare them to qualify for law-abiding work upon release.
And though sheriffs would like to keep them locked up indefinitely, most of these non-violent criminals will eventually be released back into society. On their release date, they will reenter the community with a criminal record and no new vocational skills (making it virtually impossible to find a job), as well as ten dollars and a 1-way bus ticket from the prison.
This, of course, helps to ensure they return as repeat offenders — the bread and butter of this insidious business.
“Job Creators” & “Investors”: The Disconnect Between Republican Policies & Economic Stimulus
The Republican Party’s latest economic policy proposals are nothing short of pure unadulterated neo-liberalism — the radical merciless ideology foisted upon the world by economist Milton Freedman. Recent events throughout the country have been playing out like a chapter straight out of Naomi Klein’s hugely important bestseller, The Shock Doctrine.
First the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2%, then the calls for deregulation, union-busting, and privatization; followed by — surprise! — severe austerity measures. These policies, if fully enacted, will accomplish little more than transferring trillions of dollars to the wealthiest individuals and corporations, and in doing so crushing the lives of average Americans.
Any ‘trickle down’ effects yielded from extending Bush tax cuts for the wealthy — which added nearly a trillion dollars to our national debt — would have been negligible at best. But they will literally be jack-hammered to oblivion if followed by the Republican-proposed Draconian measures.
Their calls for deep spending cuts in the public sector (both at Federal and State levels) will translate into whittling away all safety nets for America’s elderly and most vulnerable, while issuing pink slips for teachers, cops, firemen, postal employees, librarians, etc.
Instead of paying teachers to educate our children, and cops to fight crime, taxpayers will instead be writing their unemployment checks. That is, until Republicans can finally figure out a way to terminate unemployment insurance as well. Meanwhile, our national infrastructure continues to crumble beneath our feet.
And their proposals do absolutely nothing to stimulate the economy. Unless you believe that sacking public workers will magically reduce unemployment, and somehow stimulate consumer demand (the driver for economic expansion).
Rather than subjecting lower and middle-income Americans to severe austerity measures, our economy would be best served by doing the very opposite. Policies that help to improve the financial bottom-line for struggling Americans guarantees an economic spark, if only because these Americans have little choice, but to spend every last dollar they make on necessities (i.e. they put ALL of it right back into the economy).
Unlike lower and middle-income Americans, the wealthy have the luxury to hoard each and every penny netted from their tax cuts. And few of them will be enticed to invest in a recessionary environment where risks are abnormally high.
How many millionaires are out stimulating the economy right now by purchasing third or fourth homes here in the U.S., when economists are now forecasting a double dip in home prices? How many are considering starting up new businesses, dependent upon consumer spending, when consumer bankruptcies just hit a 5-year high?
For wealthy individuals who do choose to invest, many will wisely target foreign companies, foreign mutual funds, foreign real estate, and multinationals who do business where economies are still growing. In other words, the ‘trickle-down’ part of Republican economic policies will actually occur in China, India, and elsewhere.
The supply-side ideology is based upon a faulty and outdated model that conveniently ignores competition for investment dollars overseas, and is largely dependent upon exaggerating the discretionary spending behavior of the wealthy.
As for corporate tax laws, two-thirds of all U.S. corporations dodged paying a single penny in taxes between 1998 and 2005. And how did these corporations repay the favor? By shifting their labor investments overseas, to countries where the cost of labor is extremely low, and where few if any environmental protection laws exist.
Cisco just released their international salary report showing that the average annual salary of their technical professionals in India ($14,508) is just 1/4 of what their American counterparts make ($62,993). And yet their Indian employees work 56 hours per week, on average — that’s 25% more hours than their American counterparts (45 hrs).
To rub some serious salt into the wounds, the Wall Street Journal recently reported that U.S. corporations (not even including Wall Street Banks) were sitting on close to $2 trillion in cash — the highest corporate cash reserves in over 50 years! — and still refuse to hire in the United States:
Rather than pouring their money into building plants or hiring workers, nonfinancial companies in the U.S. were sitting on $1.93 trillion in cash and other liquid assets at the end of September, up from $1.8 trillion at the end of June, the Federal Reserve said Thursday. Cash accounted for 7.4% of the companies’ total assets—the largest share since 1959.
The cash buildup shows the deep caution many companies feel about investing in expansion while the economic recovery remains painfully slow and high unemployment and battered household finances continue to limit consumers’ ability to spend.
Yet, Republicans contend we must deregulate our industries further to help corporations cut their costs — at the expense of the environment and consumer protections — and desist from demanding they pay their fair share in taxes — all so that they will have the money they need to “create jobs”.
NO informed American — outside of wealthy individuals and corporate profiteers — could possibly support the Republican Party’s economic policies.
Which begs the question: how does a political party, which serves only the interests of its wealthiest contributors, continue to successfully legislate policies that work against the very interests of the American people?
Since their ideology is unsupported by the facts, they hire “word doctors” who coin misleading phrases to be repeated over and over again. Phrases that are both simplistic and somehow ‘intuitive’ to a non-discerning public.
This has remained their tried and true method for selling destructive economic policies to the American people. Take Frank Luntz, probably the most famous of all conservative “word doctors”. He coined the phrase “government takeover of healthcare”, which became the talking point for the Republican Party during the health care reform debate. It helped spur the Tea Party into storming Democratic town hall meetings during that period — terrified that “Marxists” were coming after their Medicare.
Their current economic play-script is inundated with two phrases: “job creators” and “investors” — to be used in place of “corporations” and “wealthy individuals”. These phrases — more or less the equivalents of “fair and balanced” being used to describe Fox News ‘reporting’ — are now the cornerstone of the entire Republican economic policy narrative.
Take Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Virtually every sentence that comes out of his mouth includes the phrase “job creators”. Check out his Twitter account and count the tweets where he reiterates the phrase “job creators”. In fact, he created a website called AmericanJobCreators.com where he asks “job creators” to tell him what kinds of consumer protection regulations he should dismantle on their behalf.
The guy is a corporate lobbyist’s wet dream.
And our obsequious President — instead of showing leadership on this issue and dismantling this fictitious narrative — first capitulated on extending Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2%, then capitulated to Issa back in January on the argument that deregulation helps create jobs. In doing so, he legitimized what he knows to be untrue, making it next to impossible for his party to now push for MORE regulation and RAISE taxes on wealthy corporations and individuals without immediately being branded as hostile to “job creators”.
The Conservative Party in Canada, having noticed the success their Republican counterparts across the border were having with this “job creators” phrase, quickly employed it as their own anti-tax slogan.
But make no mistake about it. Our current economic plight was created by:
- Bush’s deregulatory policies leading to a financial meltdown, and the ensuing AIG and TARP bailouts.
- Bush’s misleading us into unnecessary & expensive wars.
- Bush’s granting the wealthiest 2% nearly $3 trillion in tax cuts over the last decade.
- Two-thirds of all corporations having evaded paying a single penny in taxes from their trillions in profits over the last decade.
- Corporations having moved our higher paying jobs overseas to low-cost labor countries.
It is not due to a lack of investing capital by cash-hoarding, tax-evading corporations and the wealthiest 2% (the so called “job creators”) — which remains the Republican rationale for cutting taxes and deregulation.
Yet, somehow the lives of the rich and powerful keep getting easier — more comfortable — while the burden for the reckless calamity they unleashed on this country slowly, but surely — thanks to a combination of an emboldened right-wing and a compliant, timid President — gets shifted onto the backs of the American people in the form of harsh austerity measures.
Milton Friedman’s legacy continues to haunt us.