CONTENTS FEATURES 2 The Makings of a Prison Industry 6 The Chemical Age 8 The Wastelands 9 An All-American Solution 11 Living With Leukemia 13 Why They Sue 14 The Tort Reform Package 15 Promises Made in the Valley Dave Denison Dave Denison Louis Dubose Louis Dubose Louis Dubose Jo Clifton Jo Clifton Louis Dubose DEPARTMENTS 4 Dialogue 16 Political Intelligence 17 Social Cause Calendar Books and the Culture: 20 Burly Sinners and Other Conglomerations Afterword: 22 At the Hunting Cabin Geoffrey Rips Elroy Bode the Senate the “principled few” amounts, these days, to about two votes \(in this case, Sens. Craig Washington and Carlos as against 122 who A rather central issue here whether groups other than the state have the right to hold citizens as prisoners was casually dismissed as a question for the philosophers. What the legislators wanted was to build more prisons and to save money doing it. Lobbyist Dee Simpson, whose union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, opposes privatization, said he tried to argue that incarceration is the “exclusive province of the state,” but got nowhere. “It was impossible to discuss it with anyone, because they’re all so hopped-up about TDC,” Simpson said. Somewhere in the March 10 debate on the House floor was the voice of Rep. Al Price of Beaumont saying, “Nobody should have the right or privilege of denying a person life, liberty and freedom but the state. [This right] is certainly too important for the state to delegate to any kind of private concern whose main object is to make money. ” But as with most things the sensible Beaumont Democrat says to the House, his comment seemed somehow outside the boundaries of the discussion. Nobody was interested. Yet Price was exactly right. No matter how well-crafted this bill may be it still puts the state’s prisoners in the hands of businessmen who will serve the interests of private investors. A cautious step down the wrong road is, nonetheless, a step down the wrong road. To introduce the profit motive into the troubled world of ,Texas prisons only promises to make matters worse. For one thing, it will increase pressure to build more prisons and lock away ever more people the more prisoners, the better it will be for business. Even Bill Clements seems to have come to realize that the state locks up thousands of nonviolent offenders who ought not to be crowded into the Texas prison system. But what the legislature has done now is to create an entirely new lobby on criminal justice issues and one with an economic stake. This year in committee hearings that had previously been the arena for district attorneys and prosecutors and civil libertarians a contentious lot but generally motivated by conviction rather than economic interest we saw hired guns such as Billy Wayne Clayton lurking around. The former Speaker of the House, lobbying for a group called Detentions Centers, Inc., of Bryan, told a House committee “We believe the private sector can provide a beautiful service for much less cost, ” as if he were hawking time-share condominiums. Another group that was leaning on legislators was Corrections Corporation of America, led by Tom Beasley, the former head of the Tennessee Republican Party, and a leading would-be prison baron. CCA is backed by the people who built the Hospital Corporation of America into a giant health care business. It operates private prisons in Tennessee and North Carolina and runs the INS detention jails in Houston and Laredo for undocumented immigrants. With the addition of the likes of CCA to the legislative scene, the lock’m up lobby will grow in power and influence. IN ARGUING FOR private prisons in a Senate committee last month the bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Ray Farabee, D-Wichita Falls, asked “If we can avoid the up-front investment of several hundred million dollars [for new prisons] and if we can save at least ten percent on operating costs, then why shouldn’t we have this alternative?” On the Senate floor he again referred to the promised cost savings to the state, adding “If we can’t save at least ten percent, then we shouldn’t do it.” Clearly, the important factor in Farabee’s mind was not the ethics of the question \(for there is little might ask why we shouldn’t contract with private prison companies at a savings of eight percent or five percent, or why we shouldn’t insist on savings of 15 percent. At what percent does it become right for the state to pass on its responsibility for incarceration? One might also ask where those financial savings to the state are going to come from. The privatization debate feeds on the myth that private industry is somehow more “efficient” than government. But look at the waste and fraud that taxpayers put up with in the military hardware industry. The way Texas prisons have been run suggests that government very easily can make a mess of things. But look at the mess private industry has made of nuclear power plant construction the bad planning and cost-overruns and mismanagement. It won’t be “efficiency” that will result in lower prison costs, if indeed lower costs are realized. The savings will come from lower labor costs. According to AFSCME, staff salaries and benefits make up about two-thirds of the costs of running prisons. This is the most likely area to cut corners. But private companies will also insist on the need to make a profit. Suppose a company bids low, operates the prison at a ten percent savings for three years and then can no longer make money at that level. Will there be an abundance of competing corporations to step in? If the state has to buy and operate the prison, will privatization be any cheaper in the long run? There is a host of problems that the legislature didn’t have time to adequately study. No one can agree on what kind of problems in liability might crop up. In the case of a prisoner’s civil rights complaints, is the state liable or the company or both? The question of prison labor inmates THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3
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