by Eric Zuesse
Incarceration rates don’t necessarily correlate with corruption, but they do reflect the extent to which a given nation’s government is (by means of its laws and its enforcement of those laws) at war against its own population; and, so, technically speaking, it’s supposed to reflect the prevalence of law-breaking within that nation. After all, by definition, people are presumed to be in prison for law-breaking, irrespective of whether the given nation’s laws are just – and, if they’re not just, then this fact reflects even more strongly that the nation itself is corrupt. So, a high incarceration-rate does strongly tend to go along with a nation’s being highly corrupt, in more than merely a technical sense.
Out of the world’s 223 countries, the US has the world’s second-highest incarceration rate: 698 per 100,000, just behind #1 Seychelles, with 799 per 100,000. Seychelles doesn’t even have as many as 100,000 people (but only 90,024 – as many people as are in the city of Temple Texas). By contrast, the US has 322,369,319; so, the US is surely the global leader in imprisonment. And, furthermore, #3, St. Kitts and Nevis, with an incarceration-rate of 607 per 100,000, has only 54,961 people (as many people as are in the city of Columbus Indiana). The only other country that might actually be close to the US in imprisoning its own people is North Korea, which could even beat out the US there, but wouldn’t likely beat tiny Seychelles: North Korea is estimated to have «600-800 people incarcerated per 100,000», and a total population of 24,895,000.
Thus, for imprisonments, the US really does have no close second: it’s the unquestionable global market-leader, for prisons and prisoners.
And this gets us to the market-leader for prisons within America itself, and to the stunning corruption that stands behind it.
So, here’s that extraordinary example, and the story behind its corruption, which will provide a close-up view of America’s general corruption, from the top (including the government itself) on down:
In order to protect the profits of privately run prisons in the US (where «Sixty-two percent of detention beds are administered by private prison corporations», meaning that most US prisoners are being ‘served’ by for-profit corporations in for-profit-run prisons), the US Federal Government is refusing to honor Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which is trying to find out why people are being imprisoned as illegal immigrants who ought not to be. Wrongly-imprisoned people are a device by which private prison-operating companies keep their prison-beds occupied and thus drawing income from the US government, just like a high occupancy-rate is essential for a hotelier’s profitability. But –unlike in the hotel trade – this coercive bed-occupancy produces more than mere profits; it produces also distressed families, of those individuals who are yanked and unjustifiably imprisoned, families suffering needlessly.
It turns out that federal laws, passed mainly by the Republicans, but also with votes from corrupt Democrats, require (in H.R.3547) the US government to pay for «a level of not less than 34,000 detention beds» for ‘illegal immigrants.’ (You can see that requirement being cited by the Republican interrogator of an Obama Administration official, Department of Homeland Security, at 1:03:00- in this video, where the Obama official is being criticized for not locking up enough people to meet the law’s requirements.) (Republicans and other conservatives love to punish people, irrespective of justice. To be concerned about justice, as the CCR is, is to be ‘soft on crime’, as Republicans view it. Instead of justice, Republicans seek revenge; thus, for example, Republicans overwhelmingly support torture against ‘terrorist’ suspects; Democrats overwhelmingly oppose it. Torture greatly reduces the trustworthiness of a suspect’s statements, but it always serves as a vent for revenge, even when the suspect actually had nothing to do with terrorism; so, Republicans strongly approve of torture. Similarly, the most-conservative Muslims approve of beheading ‘infidels’. Conservatives everywhere, and in every faith, support harsh punishments; and the US is a conservative country; so, sentences are long, and the conditions are harsh.)
However, the Obama Administration itself, even as it locks up, on some days, just shy of the legally mandated minimum of 34,000 accused ‘illegal immigrants’ (which shortfall is here drawing the ire of that congressional Republican in the video), is also actively blocking CCR from access to the information about how the government and private corporations set rates for immigration detention beds and facilities. CCR argues that private profits are being given higher priority by the Administration than is the welfare of the public; and, thus, that the General Welfare Clause of the US Constitution is being violated here.
The Obama Administration says that it won’t release the information, because to do so would «harm corporations competitively».
CCR claims, and the Obama Administration is opposing their accusation, that «there is essentially no competitive market in government contracts that could be harmed by the release of information, that there should be nothing proprietary about the terms of a government contract, and that the public has a right to understand how Congress funds immigration detention and how that funding is influenced».
The Obama Administration is arguing that if this same cost-information were being requested concerning any of the 38% of government-run prisons, then the FOIA request would be complied with, but that contracting-out or privatizing that function has freed the government of any such obligation.
However, CCR is concerned specifically about that profit-motive here – that the revolving door between government service and the private sector might itself be a key part of the explanation for the government’s requiring that at least 34,000 people will be in prison for, or awaiting trial on charges of, ‘illegal immigration’. CCR contends that the only reason why people should be imprisoned in America is that they’ve actually broken laws for which the correct punishment is a prison term. But the position of the US government is contrary: if the beneficiary of someone’s imprisonment is a private corporation, the public shouldn’t necessarily be allowed to know what’s going on, nor why. And, so, that’s the issue here. Does a private corporation’s privacy-right exceed the public’s right-to-know? The government says yes; CCR says no. CCR argues that to privatize is not to immunize: the government has the same obligations to the public, regardless of how it has chosen to carry out its obligations. The Obama Administration argues that a private corporation is private, protected from the public’s scrutiny – and that the corporation’s only obligations are to the government, not to the public; thus, no such FOIA requests will be honored.
Here’s what’s not in dispute about the case: the man who, in the first Obama Administration, was the head of the US Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations, David Venturella, is now the top sales official at GEO Group, which is «the world’s leading provider of correctional detention, and residential treatment services around the globe» – and that’s also the first thing GEO says about itself, on its own «Who We Are» page. And Mr Venturella is now being cited by the Obama Administration as an ‘expert’ in order to deny CCA’s FOIA request.
As a GEO official, Venturella claims in his 22 December 2015 declaration in the court-case, that, «the winning proposal in almost every Federal procurement competition is awarded to the lowest priced bidder», and that, «the disclosure of GEO’s proprietary bed-day rates and staffing plans would result in substantial competitive financial harm to GEO». He claims that, «Even with access to their larger competitors’ staffing plans, the smaller private companies do not have access to the capital needed to compete to win a large facility». In other words, he pretends that GEO is one of «the smaller private companies». But then he goes on to say (just in case a reader might happen to consider GEO not to be one of «the smaller private companies»): «The second stage would be acrimonious competition between the larger organizations, public and private, that will very likely lead to their withdrawal from the detention market as well, thereby leaving ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] with no viable detention service providers». Venturella assumes here that ICE cannot itself own and operate its prisons. (He doesn’t say why; he merely assumes that it’s the case – perhaps that everything should be privatized, and must be privatized, so ICE shouldn’t run its own prisons.)
So, that (false) argument is the reason why injustices to defendants in the US immigration system must continue, Venturella, the salesman for GEO (his title is «Senior Vice President»), is here arguing.
Essentially, the Obama Administration is joining with GEO arguing that the profitability of private prison companies is more important than any injustices that might happen to be caused by Congress’s establishment of an arbitrary fixed and stable minimum number of prisoners every day – and, since the head of the top prison-company is saying that profits would be threatened by adhering to FOIA in this particular matter, the Freedom of Information Act request in this case must be denied.
The basic argument, in other words, is that privatization is more important than the US Constitution and its General Welfare Clause.
How close are these contractors to the government?
Here are five of the seven members of the Board of Directors of GEO:
One is «Former Director, Federal Bureau of Prisons».
Another is «Former Under Secretary United States Air Force».
Another is «Executive Director, National League of Cities».
Another is «Chairman and CEO of ElectedFace Inc»., which «will connect people to their elected officials in every political district».
Another is George C Zoley, the company’s Founder and CEO, who is also «America’s Highest Paid ‘Corrections Officer.’»
In fact, «GEO Group’s revenue in 2012 exceeded $1.4 billion and CMD [Center for Media and Democracy] estimates that 86% of this money came out of the pockets of taxpayers. CMD’s investigation of GEO Group unearthed how the company’s cost-cutting strategies lead to a vicious cycle where lower wages and benefits for workers, high employee turnover, insufficient training, and under-staffing results in poor oversight and mistreatment of detained persons, increased violence, and riots». (If so, then that would add to the misery that’s produced by the improper imprisonments.)
«According to Nasdaq, major investors in GEO Group include: Vanguard, BlackRock, Scopia Capital (a hedge fund run by Jeremy Mindich and Matt Sirovich) Barclays Global Investors, Bank of New York Mellon, and more. George Zoley, CEO of GEO, is a major stockholder with over 500,000 shares. For more on investors, see Ray Downs, ‘Who’s Getting Rich Off the Prison-Industrial Complex?’ Vice, June 2013».
Privatization is very profitable. But not for everybody. Only for the well-connected. For everybody else, it’s just more poor and abused workers, and unjustly imprisoned people. But virtually all Republicans, and also the Obama Administration and other corrupt Democrats (and Obama will get his enrichment after he leaves office), think that privatization is necessary – even more necessary than is adherence to the US Constitution, or than a justly ruled nation, and prosperous public.
This type of government fits with America’s extraordinarily high incarceration rate.
But a few US officials do whatever they can to reduce the country’s corruption. For example, the «Immigration Detention Bed Quota Timeline» shows that, in September 2015, US Senator Bernie Sanders (who probably is the US federal government’s leading campaigner against corruption) «introduces the Justice is Not for Sale Act of 2015, which seeks to end the bed quota among other criminal justice and immigration detention reforms. The bill is the first effort in the US Senate to eliminate the bed quota. In addition, Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Keith Ellison (D-MN), and Bobby Rush (D-IL) introduce the bill in the US House of Representatives».
Those are the most progressive members of the US Congress. Arrayed against them are the billions of dollars in political propaganda that cause the number of such progressives to be extremely few in the US government. For that bill to pass in Congress, practically all conservatives would first have to become replaced by progressives, and by other supposed non-conservatives (called ‘liberals’), in Congress. Sanders says that it would require «a political revolution», and he’s correct on that. But that’s the least likely type of «revolution» the US is likely to have. Perhaps Sanders knows this but doesn’t want to shock people, who are too indoctrinated to be able to accept the uncomfortably ugly truth, that things might already be too far gone for that type of «revolution» to be sufficient (even if it were feasible).