Introducing for-profit companies into America’s criminal justice system has been a bad deal for governments across the country.
During the past several years, a movement opposed to profit incentives in our criminal justice system has grown. Private prison corporations such as Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group have come under increasing scrutiny and pressure for cutting corners, contracts that include “occupancy guarantees” of 80, 90 and even 100 percent, and unsafe prison conditions.
But it’s not just the prisons that are handed over to CCA or GEO Group. Almost every service delivered inside the prison is being outsourced to for-profit corporations. Outsourced inmate health care, food and commissary services, telephone and financial services like money transfers between families and inmates are all adding to the poor conditions in prisons and burdening inmates and their families with extra costs.
For example, earlier this month, the Palm Beach Post broke the story of the deplorable treatment of prisoners by health care contractors in Florida prisons as contractors seek to maximize profits by cutting costs.
(Note: The following opinion piece was written by a single mother of two children who fears losing her job. For this reason her name has been withheld.)
What does “Made in America” mean to you? For consumers, it means a quality product. For workers, it means a good paying job and an opportunity to achieve the American Dream. Yet “Made in America” can also stand for opportunity to exploit workers under harsh conditions and unfair wages. That’s what it means in the manufacturing plant where I work in Commerce.
I’ve worked three years for Huhtamaki, a Finnish-owned packaging manufacturer located in the Los Angeles area. We make ice cream containers and other products for Walmart. And the job, it’s just not what people are talking about when they talk about investing in new manufacturing jobs in our country.
As a single mother of two, making ends meet is hard.
In a scene right out of Orange Is the New Black, 1,000 inmates at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville, Ohio dumped their food in protest last week after maggots were found in the kitchen and dining areas. The prison’s food service program had been outsourced to the massive Aramark corporation.
Maggots have also been discovered in seven other prisons around the state – and Aramark runs the food service programs in all of them. Last month, maggots were discovered in two Michigan prisons where Aramark also runs the food service programs. The Philadelphia, PA-based corporation hasn’t taken responsibility, and officials in both states are sticking by the vendor, responding with small fines instead of canceling the contracts. Ohio fined Aramark $270,000 and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder fined the company a mere $200,000.
You can mail a letter anywhere in the domestic United States for just 49 cents. Think about that for a second. Your letter literally can travel thousands of miles – over mountains, across great lakes and through the desert – for less than the cost of a bag of M&M’s.
But some want to outsource the postal services and its workers to giant retail stores such as Staples, which would destroy what is perhaps the greatest bargain still available in America. A recent piece by David Morris in the Huffington Post explains why this is a bad idea.
There is something we can do about it. The American Postal Workers Union has launched a campaign, Stop Staples: The U.S. Mail is Not for Sale, which is garnering strong support from millions of Americans, including teachers. And as a huge seller of notebooks, pens and other school supplies,
“In states and cities across the country, lawmakers are expressing new skepticism about privatization, imposing new conditions on government contracting, and demanding more oversight.”
— The Atlantic, 4/23/14
“Is privatization a magic wand? Is it always going to come in and save you money? No. You have to do this well. You have to do your due diligence. You have to do a good contract and then you have to monitor and enforce that contract.”
— Leonard Gilroy, Reason Foundation Director of Government Reform
“The ideological fervor for privatization has ebbed.”
— John D. Donahue, privatization expert, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government
Statements like these would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. For decades, runaway outsourcing of public services and assets enjoyed nearly nonstop momentum at the state and local levels. But when even the Reason Foundation is agreeing with us about responsible contracting,