« "Against death penalty? Then debate Colorado" | Main | Notable comments from Justice Scalia on the Second and Eighth Amendments »

July 30, 2012

Ralph Nader urges Obama and Romney to discuss "the prison-industrial complex"

I have a wide array of mixed feelings about Ralph Nader as a politician and policy advocate, but I have no reservations endorsing his advocacy for more political discourse about mass incarceration and the drug war.  This Nader advocacy appears in this lengthy new opinion piece headlined "Obama/Romney: Start debating the prison-industrial complex."  Here are excerpts:

Ever visit a major prison?  The vast majority of Americans have not, despite our country having by far a higher incarceration rate per capita than China or Iran.  Out of sight is out of mind.

Imagine the benefits of the average taxpayer touring a prison. The lucrative prison-industrial complex would definitely not like public exposure of their daily operations. Prison CEOs have no problem with a full house of non-violent inmates caught with possession of some street drugs (not alcohol or tobacco)....

Indeed, for the giant Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), times are booming. CCA builds their prisons or buys or leases public prisons from financially strapped governments. Barron’s financial weekly can always be expected to give us the Wall Street perspective. In a recent article titled “Ready to Bust Out,” writer Jonathan R. Laing is bullish on CCA stock....

Mr. Laing writes that CCA has cost advantages over the public-prison sector, paying lower non-union wages and using more automated technology.  Besides, the company is a tough bargainer when it buys or operates public prisons.  One CCA condition is that the facility must have 1,000 beds, can’t be more than 25 years old, and get this, “the contract must guarantee a 90 percent occupancy rate.”  A guarantee backed by taxpayers no less, unless, that is, the clause works to put more prisoners in jail for longer sentences.

The Barron’s article adds that CCA is counting on “the old standby of recidivism to keep prison head counts growing, filling its empty beds.” To the impoverished rural communities where these prisons are located, it’s about needed jobs....

The same perverse incentives apply to the self-defeating trillion-dollar war on drugs (see http://www.drugpolicy.org/).  History has demonstrated that driving addictions into illegal undergrounds creates vicious underworld crimes.  In Mexico, the so-called drug cartel is getting close to destroying local governments in many regions.  In the U.S., half a million people are behind bars for nonviolent drug offenses, the vast majority arrested for mere possession, not production or sale. That is nearly one in four of all prisoners. There are twenty million marijuana arrests every year in the U.S.!

Drug addictions are treated as crimes instead of as health problems, which we do with tobacco and alcohol addictions.  Gross racial disparities persists, starting with black teenagers having to go to jail for a drug offense six times more often than a comparable white youth, both with prior clean records (http://www.nyclu.org/content/commission-must-reform-inhumane-drug-laws)....

Right/Left convergence is emerging.  Last April, for instance, David Keene, former Chair of the American Conservative Union and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, joined with the NAACP and other liberals to highlight escalating levels of prison spending and its impact on our nation’s children and poorly performing schools. Connecticut spends $40,000 a year to imprison a juvenile offender compared to less than $12,000 a year to educate a young person.

Other similar convergences over hugely disparate sentencing as with crack and cocaine are forming, making both economic and humane arguments. More young black men are locked up than are in college, according to the Justice Roundtable.

Still, there hasn’t been enough reform pressure even to pass outgoing U.S. Senator Jim Webb’s legislation simply to create a National Criminal Justice Commission Act. This legislation is now stuck in Senatorial limbo.  Start up the prison tours.  Have some led by articulate, former convicts who are pushing to reform our cruel, costly and ineffective prison system.  It is so easy to do much better, if we want to.

July 30, 2012 at 07:45 AM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e2016768eb1fd0970b

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Ralph Nader urges Obama and Romney to discuss "the prison-industrial complex":

Comments

Talk about losing credibility. I cannot listen to anything Nader says regardless of the merits. My problem I know. But this is how judges feel about lawyer's whom they can not trust.

Posted by: I voted for Gore | Aug 1, 2012 5:21:25 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB