Not long after the Traitor to His Nation Ronnie Raygunner declared war on drugs the nation began what might actually be the largest infrastructure project since the Interstate Highway System. Its purpose was to build enough jails to house the rapidly growing number of drug offenders caught up in the Raygunner’s political game.
One of the more unique aspects of this infrastructure project is that it was largely undertaken by private companies. This is entirely consistent with the Traitor Raygunner’s philosophy that the private sector can do stuff a lot better than the public sector. One logical result of this private sector thinking was that the jails were built in places where land and labor were cheap. Picking the right rural district meant no zoning hassles and, best of all, you could get local governments to put in DEA money and community development funds and tax breaks. Nothing better than a private sector investment funded by tax money!!!
Another consequence is that there was not a lot of coordination or planning. They just got built when you had investors who wanted to build them.
These projects resulted in (what we think are) unintended consequences that distort the normal criminal justice public policy landscape. There is now a built-in constituency for harsh drug laws. Just as mall developers lobby against sales taxes, jail developers lobby for draconian criminal laws, primarily drug laws, but any laws will do. (Do they realize that the death penalty is against their personal interests? I bet it pays for itself as long as there is a long appeals process.)
And of course the new system works additional hardships on the convicts. Most of these jails are far removed from the places where most of the drug offenders are. You get a lot of junkies from Philadelphia being jailed in Arkadelphia. Inmates shipped half way across country are not able to see their families.
A curious result we could have all predicted has just played itself out in Pennsylvania. There, two juvenile judges in Eastern Pennsylvania were found to have taken kickbacks from a prison company in Western Pennsylvania in exchange for keeping the bunks filled at privately owned detention centers. That’s right. Pay for Play with the lives of kids.
Here is how it worked. Two Judges, Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella shut down a juvenile detention center operating in Luzerne County. They were paid about $100,000 for shutting down the existing center. They then started sending kids to centers operated by PA Child Care and a sister company, Western PA Child Care. These companies paid the judges an additional $2.6 million in kickbacks over the next four years.
What makes this worse is that there is evidence that the judges were sending kids to the slam who would not normally have gone to jail. These were mostly in cases where the kids appeared without counsel. The judges apparently waived the kids right to a lawyer. (Should be no big surprise in the age of George The Moron W. Busch?) The NYT Reports today: “Judge Ciavarella has said he did not sentence juveniles who did not deserve the punishment, but the numbers suggested a different story: he sent one in four of the juvenile defendants to the detention centers from 2002 to 2006, while the rate elsewhere in the state was 1 in 10. He also routinely ignored requests for leniency, even when they were made by prosecutors and probation officers.”
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania recently doled out some justice here. Conahan and Ciavarella get 87 months in the slammer and the kids — thousands of them—got their records expunged.
There are still two facts we should take note of. One is that the prison system is so lucrative that it can pay out $2.6 million over four years in bribe money. The second is that the competition for prisoners is so fierce that the prison companies were willing to pay bribes to stay in the game.
I suspect there is a science fiction book written about this already, and it paints an ugly picture.