Our prison system, a system which incarcerates more people per capita than any other country is in dire need of real reform.
At pretty much every level cronyism abounds in the world of numbered jumpsuits and clanging steel doors. A river of taxpayer money flows to prisons and the prison support industry. Prisons themselves, lawyers, prison guard unions, treatment centers, police and police unions, all sorts of interests benefit from the the jungle of crony capitalism which is today’s American prison system. But does America benefit?
It is time we really considered whether all this money is incentivizing business practices which are counterproductive for society.
Recently, however, the political and economic coalition that created mass incarceration has come under pressure. In 2014, 30 states passed laws aimed to reduce their prison populations. These are welcome developments. Mass incarceration is a moral abomination that must be acknowledged, repudiated and unraveled.
But a new system has emerged that bears many of the same features. You could call it the “treatment-industrial complex” — the growing network of facilities and companies built to handle court-ordered community corrections, correctional medical care, and mental health and civil commitment facilities.
As more individuals are being treated and rehabilitated both inside and outside prison walls, for-profit companies are stepping in and profiting. Community corrections is particularly expansive, and includes an array of out-of-jail programs like probation and parole services, halfway houses, day reporting centers, drug and alcohol treatment programs, home confinement, electronic monitoring, and various supportive services such as educational classes and job training. Although many of these services are provided by public-sector and nonprofit entities, the expansive reach of treatment and rehabilitation is increasingly attracting for-profit companies. Their success depends not on being effective, but in keeping as many people as possible under supervision for as long as possible. The lengthier, deeper and more expansive the treatment, the greater the profit.