Friday, August 19, 2016

Abusing Privatization

It started with a wholesale shift from U.S. Marines to private contractors engaged to protect our diplomatic missions around the world. It move on to allowing private contractors to engage in such “protective activities” around further U.S. governmental deployments to the point where these contractors (read: down and dirty mercenaries not directly subject to codes of military conduct) became de facto American fighting forces.
The most notorious – Blackwater Worldwide (which changed its name to Xe and then again to Academi to avoid the bad publicity that followed them) – created a massive scandal (not the only one!) on September 16, 2007 when its contingent of dark-glasses-wearing soldiers of fortune fired their automatic weapons in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, leaving seventeen Iraqi civilians dead, among them women and children. That each such “private security operative” costs much more than an equivalent U.S. soldier and generates a fat profit to company owners is irrelevant. In the world of governmental budgetary gamesmanship, how such expenses are categorized – whose budget gets charged with which expense – is often more important that the raw, hard-dollar costs to the taxpayers.
Further, such private operatives can take shortcuts, engage in questionably legal and risky activities that would never be allowed to a U.S. soldier, generally resulting in a governmental shrug of the shoulders… a disavowal of responsibility of such illicit activities. Not cool. “Hey, we didn’t authorize that! We had no idea!” Well, we absolutely know that using such profit-driven private contractors to perform what used to be clear governmental functions will always result in abuses, will always fall short of the standards that apply to government employees operating within a much clearer nexus of statutes, regulations and policies. Transparency vs “government by dark ops.”
The next big surge of transferring traditional governmental functions to private enterprise, a decidedly-Republican-originated vector reflecting a general notion that “government is bad, private enterprise is good,” is in the world of prisons. Legislators assumed that government rules and unionization could be short circuited with such privatization, but with that shift – not necessarily less expensive by the way – came a loss of both accountability and what little transparency governmental prisons had. The motivation of the privatized owners was hardly justice or fairness… it is all about profits and little else.
Private operation of prisons has had some embarrassing lapses. For example, one such private facility (in Leavenworth) – managed by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) – routinely violated inmates’ attorney-client privilege rights by video-records (without sound) their private attorney conferences. CCA then responded to a grand jury subpoena and handed those recordings over to federal prosecutors, a highly unlike result had the facility been government run under direct statutory and constitutional restriction. CCA said that, “video recordings of attorney-client meetings, without audio, are a standard practice throughout the country.” Journal of the American Bar Assn., August 15th. The recordings were made to help protect security, they said. Recordings of inmate phone calls to counsel were also routinely monitored in such private facilities in Kansas and Missouri, all to the outrage of the federal courts. But the abuses went far beyond such unlawful intrusions. Safety and security problems spurred a major official inquiry.
The Dept. of Justice Inspector General believed the issues were serious enough to mount an investigation of federal prison practices. The results were described in a DOJ August report from the IG entitled “Review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Monitoring of Contract Prisons.” Joe Davidson, writing for the August 12th Washington Post, outlines the result of the IG’s report: “Private prisons — unsafe and insecure… That’s the picture emerging from a Justice Department Office of the Inspector General’s report that adds to a growing effort to take the profit out of penitentiaries.
“The report’s central conclusion: ‘We found that, in most key areas, contract prisons incurred more safety and security incidents per capita than comparable BOP (Bureau of Prisons) institutions and that the BOP needs to improve how it monitors contract prisons in several areas.’
“Those key areas are contraband, incident reports, lockdowns, inmate discipline, telephone monitoring, grievances, drug testing and sexual misconduct.
“‘With the exception of fewer incidents of positive drug tests and sexual misconduct, the contract prisons had more incidents per capita than the BOP institutions in all of the other categories of data we examined,’ the OIG said. ‘For example, the contract prisons confiscated eight times as many contraband cellphones annually on average as the BOP institutions.  Contract prisons also had higher rates of assaults, both by inmates on other inmates and by inmates on staff.’
“The private facilities held 12 percent of BOP’s prison population in December, almost 22,700 low-security immigrant adult males with 90 months or less on their sentences. Three companies have the contracts — Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), GEO Group, Inc. and Management and Training Corporation (MTC).” And remember, this is just a federal report. For states with vastly more limited resources and a general unwillingness to challenge the notion that private is better than public, you can pretty much bet that the abuses at that level are even worse.
The report triggered a decision by the U.S. Department of Justice that only impacts the federal prison system: “The Justice Department plans to end its use of private prisons after officials concluded the facilities are both less safe and less effective at providing correctional services than those run by the government.
“Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced the decision on [August 18th] in a memo that instructs officials to either decline to renew the contracts for private prison operators when they expire or ‘substantially reduce’ the contracts’ scope. The goal, Yates wrote, is ‘reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.’
“‘They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,’ Yates wrote.” Washington Post, August 18th. But will the states follow suit?
Want to save money on prisons? Don’t send so many people into them. Find alternatives, particularly for non-violent drug crimes. Reduce our proclivity to very long sentences, very much out of step with the rest of the developed world, and replace them with short terms… and even though the feds are ending this privatized hell, add parole to the federal system (where it does not currently exist). But the notion of shoving governmental functions, minus all of checks and balances that should be built into the system, into a profit-motive private sector should bother each and every one of us. It sure bothered the federal government.
I’m Peter Dekom, and there was a reason for the Constitution and justifiable statutes and regulations for bona fide governmental activities!

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