Posts Tagged ‘corrections’

This is a paper I wrote for ENGL 1302; the third & final paper of the semester, written in MLA format.

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Justice, the American Way.

Mass incarceration is the name given to the practice of locking up a notably large number of people. The United States is home to only five percent of the world’s population, and yet it is home to twenty-five percent of the world’s inmates. The US housed an estimated 1,561,500 inmates at the end of 2014 (“Prisoners”), spread across the country between both state and federal custodies. In recent years, a combination of the war on drugs, tough on crime political campaigns and emphasis on illegal immigration have assured a near endless stream of bodies, and as that number grows, so, too, do the demand for beds in which to house those bodies. Naturally, in the last two decades, corporate America has recognized this need, and has risen to the occasion, birthing the true face of corporate greed: the private prison industry. This industry represents all that is wrong with capitalism, with its unethical, borderline unlawful practices, which negatively affect the American people, should be banned.

While the industry in corporate form is relatively new, the principle behind the practices are as old as the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States, when slavery was abolished, except in context of “a sentence of ‘confinement at hard labor’ comprised the core of the penal system” (Fraser). In layman’s terms, slavery is illegal and unconstitutional unless you are sentenced to perform labor as a punishment for committing a crime. This is the origins of chain gangs, which are very much still utilized throughout many states. Now that CCA and Geo are at the table, however, slavery has evolved with the times. Companies such as Chevron, Bank of America, AT&T and IBM all utilize the inmate for labor services provided by the corporate giants. They lease inmate labor for manufacturing jobs, call centers, agricultural work and slaughter houses, and are compensated little to nothing: $0.93-$4.73/day (Fraser). In addition to these uncivilized (and, one might think, un-American) working conditions, CCA ran facilities are consistently failing to meet regulations in terms of occupancy, medical care and basic human rights (Wessler). The deeper one digs into the CCA’s closet, the more acutely aware one becomes of just how political the for-profit industry is. There are several crossover employment strings one can observe, between the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and CCA. “In 2011, for example, just a year before the riot, Harley Lappin, who had served as the bureau’s director for eight years, left to join CCA as executive vice president. Last year, he earned more than $1.6 million” (Wessler). There is much evidence of the BOP being complicit in sweeping cost cutting measures taken by CCA under the rug, instances where BOP failed to enforce the breach of contract penalties included in their contracts with the corporation.

But what, some might say, does this have to do with me? I’m not a criminal, I am not in prison and I don’t work for any of these companies or agencies. There are a few that might not be impacted as heavily by the system as it is: approximately 1% of the population. The other 99%, however, who pay taxes, who go to work every day in an effort to make it, to support their families, they are affected by it directly. CCA and companies like it initially offer overflow services to overcrowded state and federal run facilities. They offer to buy prisons outright and run them contractually for a 20-year period, all for the measly sum of $250M. “The $250 million proposal, circulated by the Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America to prison officials in 48 states, has been blasted by some state officials who suggest such a program could pressure criminal justice officials to seek harsher sentences to maintain the contractually required occupancy rates” (Johnson). Different states have different contracted capacities, [which] “range between 70 percent in a California facility to 100 percent in an Arizona facility, with most contracts requiring a 90 percent occupancy. In Ohio, a 20-year deal with CCA to privately operate the Lake Erie Correctional Institution includes a 90 percent quota; cost-cutting measures in the facility have also led to significant growth in violence, gang activity, and drug use” (Fischer). Just to be clear, this means that the state incurs harsh penalties if any of these facilities fall short of 70, 80, 90 percent occupancy. We have to keep those beds full, regardless of whether there are enough legitimate criminals convicted to fill them. Does that sound like justice and lawful policy to you? These companies cut serious corners in order to convey the illusion of savings to the governments they offer to do dealings with. “Typically, [private prison companies] can site and build a facility within two years compared with between three and seven years for a publicly controlled one, according to Manav Patnaik, an analyst at Barclays Capital. The private sector’s construction cost per “bed” is as much as 50% cheaper, too. Running costs per inmate are also lower” (Denning). As crime rates fall in different areas around the country, the challenge to maintain these quotas grows. The only way to avoid paying penalties for failing to keep the beds full (which, mind you, are paid by tax dollars) is to keep those beds full, which means harsher sentencing for low level, non-violent offenders. A report from In The Public Interest (ITPI) notes, “When entering a contract to operate a prison, a private company should be required to take on some risk. Private prison beds were intended to be a safety valve to address demand that exceeded public capacity. It was never intended that taxpayers would be the safety valve to ensure private prison companies’ profits.” Yet this is the reality we face. Either thousands of our citizens are consistently occupying the space in these facilities, or the government is paying large sums of money to make up for the lack of volume.

The quotas aren’t the only conniving means by which companies like CCA profit from American citizens via the states in which they reside. I believe as well that this is the foremost misunderstood element of incarceration in this country. These people may have committed crimes, and they are paying for their crimes, however incarceration doesn’t somehow reduce the humanity of these people. They are still human beings and, at least for many of them, they are still American citizens, which whether we like it or not, entitles them to humane living conditions, and medical attention. “Under Supreme Court rulings citing the Eighth Amendment, prisons are required to provide inmates with adequate health care. Yet CCA has found ways to minimize its obligations. At the out-of-state prisons where California ships some of its inmates, CCA will not accept prisoners who are over 65 years old, have mental health issues, or have serious conditions like HIV. The company’s Idaho prison contract specified that the “primary criteria” for screening incoming offenders was “no chronic mental health or health care issues.” The contracts of some CCA prisons in Tennessee and Hawaii stipulate that the states will bear the cost of HIV treatment. Such exemptions allow CCA to tout its cost-efficiency while taxpayers assume the medical expenses for the inmates the company won’t take or treat” (Bauer). There is the other foot. Not only can CCA force local law enforcement agencies to keep their facilities full, they can also be selective about which inmates they accept, or barring that, they can force the taxpayers to foot the bill again. Where is the justice in this? How does this curb costs for the state? For the people? It doesn’t. These unethical practices are purely for the benefit of CCA and no one else.

No one is forcing the government to enter into these contracts with CCA and other such companies, some might say. It’s just an option that they can consider when evaluating budgetary allocation. This is certainly true, at the surface. However, “it took seven years for the bureau to release its studies on the BOP’s first privatized facility, in central California. One study found that any cost savings were eclipsed by the financial burdens of oversight; another took up the question of quality and found a litany of deficiencies, including health services that had barely met standards for nearly two years” (Wessler). As the bottom line is the priority for these companies, the net effect is it is the inmates and their families who suffer. ‘”Profit is still a motive and it’s structured into the way these prisons are operated,” says Judy Greene, a justice-policy analyst for Justice Strategies, a nonprofit studying prison-sentencing issues and problems. “Just because the system has expanded doesn’t mean there is evidence that conditions have improved”’ (Chen). Conditions improve only as much as they have to in order to appease the scrutiny of external groups and agencies. “The [Louisiana Department of Corrections,] which has ultimate authority over all prisons in the state, has been taking a closer look at Winn’s day-to-day operations. (According to DOC documents […] later obtained, the department had just written to CCA about “contract compliance” and areas where Winn’s “basic correctional practices” needed improvement.) Wardens from publicly run state prisons have appeared out of nowhere, watching over COs as they work, asking them questions. The newer guards fret about losing their jobs. Old-timers shrug it off—they say they’ve seen Winn weather tough times before” (Bauer). Corners are cut constantly in the name of upping that bottom line. Private prisons house 7% of state inmates, 19% of federal inmates, 62% of immigration detainees and 31% of juvenile detainees. Combined, these numbers make for a lot of human beings that are no different than chattel in the eyes of CCA.

Rehabilitation is a misnomer in this day and age. Low crime rates and low recidivism are not priorities for politically driven entities amongst the 1%. Incarceration is no longer a punishment but a commodity, packaged and sold to the highest bidder. It represents everything that is wrong with this great nation. We have a responsibility to treat people like people, to punish the crime with a sentence that is fitting of the crime. We deserve to live in a world where Justice isn’t just a fancy ideal, and where unethical practices aren’t allowable when the price is right. For-profit prison industry is a mar upon the face of America, and it should be altogether banned.

This is another paper I wrote for my English composition class. I share now because the topic of recidivism and addiction came up today. This paper was also written in MLA format.

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A disease, according to Merriam-Webster, is defined as “an illness that affects a person, animal, or plant; a condition that prevents the body or mind from working normally” (p1). Additionally, addiction, as defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse is “a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.” (“The Essence of Drug Addiction.” p7). The link between the two words is plain to see. Yet America, as a nation, does not treat addiction as a disease. Instead, it is punished, swiftly and indiscriminately, as a crime. The symptoms of the disease are simply suppressed by the system. Drug offences alone were accountable for over half of the population in federal prisons in this country in 2013, per the U.S. Department of Justice Statistics Bulletin (15). For the sake of perspective, the Federal Correctional system housed 193,775 prisoners, serving sentences longer than one year, and 98,200 of those were for drug convictions alone. (16).

How does that look at the state level? According to the same source, of the 1,314,900 inmates sentenced at the state level in 2013, only 16% of those were sentenced for drug convictions. (Table 13, page 15.) The stark contrast here has to do with some states softening the penalties for low-level drug offenses, while others are somewhat more lenient with regards to parole violations (i.e. they do not necessarily get sent straight back to prison upon their first violation, depending on the nature of it.) Nevertheless, it is incredibly alarming as to why there is such a massive difference between the federal correctional system and the state systems within the same country. How can this be explained?

The nature of drug crimes insofar as convictions are concerned, can be broken down into subcategories: possession, delivery/trafficking and manufacturing. Each carries varying degrees of severity, depending on the specific details of each case. What the typical census fails to consider is the drug related element of non-drug convictions. As mentioned earlier, addiction describes compulsive need for a substance. Alan I. Leshner, Ph.D., the Director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse within the National Institute of Health describes it perfectly:

“Drug craving and the other compulsive behaviors are the essence of addiction. They are extremely difficult to control, much more difficult than any physical dependence. They are the principal target symptoms for most drug treatment programs. For an addict, there is no motivation more powerful than a drug craving. As the movie “Trainspotting” showed us so well, the addict’s entire life becomes centered on getting and using the drug. Virtually nothing seems to outweigh drug craving as a motivator. People have committed all kinds of crimes and even abandoned their children just to get drugs.” (“The Essence of Drug Addiction.” p8.)

The science behind this has been performed. It is a widely accepted fact that addiction is a disease. Upon further consideration, it is clear to see that if America as a country was more widely inclined to address the illness itself, rather than the current method of staunching the symptoms, there is a very real and attainable possibility that crime of all kinds will decrease.

America is certainly on the trailing edge of implementing these findings. The Netherlands, for example, has systems in place where soft drugs such as marijuana are accessible in a safe, legal environment, where the users of such substances (young or infrequent especially) are not necessarily exposed to the harder, more volatile drugs, such as heroin and cocaine. Furthermore, in various European countries, there are safe rooms in place where addicts of hard drugs are free to go and use their drugs in peace, with medical supervision and clean needles. (“Denmark’s ‘Fix Rooms’ Give Drug Users a Safe Haven. P6.” This carries multiple social benefits: these addicts are not littering public streets with refuse and dirty needles, and the Netherlands has all but eliminated HIV transmission through drug injection while also boasting the lowest rate of problem drug use in all of Europe. (“…Look to the Dutch. P11.) There is more to it still: the coffee shops where the marijuana can be purchased, generate a staggering amount of revenue annually while the citizens are not strapped with criminal records for non-violent, minor drug offences, since fewer arrests are made. . (“…Look to the Dutch. P4.) The end result is a much cleaner, much more prosperous society. Some believe more lenient law enforcement would lead to an increase in drug use. For the Netherlands, this was not the case. . (“…Look to the Dutch. P5.)

Ultimately, the mentality behind policy in the Netherlands is that different substances carry different risks, the contrary of America’s stance, wherein all drugs are equally as hazardous and criminal. The pros most certainly outweigh the cons, and there are so many examples made overseas that America should follow. More leniency with low level offences has the potential to reduce recidivism, in that minor offenders would not be subject to felonies that make it exponentially more difficult to attain gainful employment, which contributes in and of itself to the alarming prison overcrowding issue in the United States. If we were to delve further into the issue, and take steps to identify those in the ranks of America’s incarcerated, who are addicted to hard drugs, such as methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and all the incarnations thereof, and take steps to treat their conditions as the disease it is, crime rates would drop exponentially. The addict mind drives otherwise good and decent people to alarming lengths to feed their addiction. Breaking and entering, theft, robbery, grand theft, and even some of the more violent crimes, are examples of some of the radical lengths an addict will go to in order to pacify his or her demons.

Imagine then if, as a society, we took steps to exorcise those particular demons. What, then, is left? The human condition dictates that there will always be some crime. The alarming numbers of men and women that fill both state and federal penitentiaries would dramatically decrease if, as a people, we took one of the more common variables off the table. Progress is progress. Consider as well, how many families living below the poverty line might have a fighting chance if their finances were not dictated by the need for a fix. Though times are still hard, in light of the recession, the black mark of a felony conviction on the background of non-violent men and women make it that much more difficult to find gainful employment. It is a vicious cycle: addiction, crime, incarceration, release without treatment for the disease, struggle to reintegrate back into the free world, inability to find work, relapse under stress or necessity of subsidizing income, crime, incarceration. This is the reality for an unacceptably large number of Americans.

The system is broken, but it is not beyond repair. The United States of America should follow the lead of more progressive countries like The Netherlands and treat the disease. Without the disease rampant and out of control, the symptoms will become irrelevant. Treat the disease; stop suppressing the symptoms.

Works Cited:

Carson, E. Ann, Ph.D. “Prisoners in 2013.” U.S. Department of Justice – Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin. Sept. 2014. Web PDF. 12 Oct. 2014.

Leshner, Alan I. Ph.D. “The Essence of Addiction.” National Institute on Drug Abuse. March, 2001. Web. 12 Oct. 2014.

Malinowska-Sempruch, Kasia. “For Safe and Effective Drug Policy, Look to the Dutch.” Global Drug Policy Program. Open Society Foundations. July 16, 2013. Web.

Merriam-Webster. An Encyclopedia Britannica Company. Web. 12 Oct 2014.

Overgaard, Sidsel. “Denmark’s ‘Fix Rooms’ Give Drug Users A Safe Haven.” Parrallels: Many Stories, One World. 16 Dec 2013. Web. 12 Oct. 2014.