Page 20


ACA, continued from page 5 On the other hand, the availability of these technologies, he argued, could lead to them being used outside of a correctional contexti.e. before the individual even becomes an offender and without the current guarantees of due process. Some of Fabelo’s hypothesized inventionssatellite/cellular . ‘tracking systems that incorporate “safe zones” subjects must avoid, like ex-partner’s houses, technological assessments of an individual’s likelihood to molest children, and genetic screening for predisposition to violenceare already avail= able and on display in the ACA’s exhibit hall. Fabelo was particularly concerned about the prospect of “preven dye incarceration,” in which certain suspect groups. “could be placed under Closer surveillance or declared a danger to themselves and society and be civilly committed to special facilities for indeterminate. periods.” This is -not farfetChed-12 states allow preventive incarceration of child molesters after they have served their full sentences. There are technological nightmares inside prisons as well. At a packed workshop on ‘riot control .technology,.a warden from California complained that it is impossible to get replacement parts for his new pepper-spray/watercannon system: Chemical weapons ‘like pepper spray-7–which causes horrible, albeit temporary, burning -of. the skin and eyesare becoming increasingly. popular in prisons. Advocates worry that because the weapons are nonlethal and relatively economical, offi, cers tend to use them too frequently’ and without just cause. A bit later, Rodney Cooper, the presenter of the workshop and a former. warden of the Walls Unit in Huntsville, casually. explained why Texas ‘prisons do not use stun shields, riot shields equipped with Taser-like electric shockers. As part of training, he said, officers authorized to use the shields had to first test them on themselves. The program was scrapped when a cadet died of a heart attack. Still, sales of such “less lethal” devices have been brisk throughout the nation. I ncarceration as an industry is relatively recession-proof. Yet certain segments have had their setbacks -in recent years, particularly private prisons. Local and state governments privatization bandwagon in the 1990s; until last year there were 158 private correctional facilities in the United States,with Texas leading the pack at 43. The last few years, however, have dealt a number of blows, -from which the still-nascent industry seems unlikely to recover. In 1996, the U.S.-General Accounting Office ‘released a .report blasting the savings forecasts of privatization. Far from the promised 20 percent savings over public facilities; the GAO concluded that ‘ private prisons save governments 1 percent. at most, and in some cases actually cost more than comparable. public facilities. In February of 2001., the U.S. Department of Justice reported that when private rates were ‘lower than public, the savings cane out of workers’ wages and benefits, and often ‘resulted simply from non-union contracts. In addition, private prisons have been rocked by a series of scandals, notably in Youngstown, ‘Ohio, and Jena, Louisiana, where charges of abuse and mismanagement have led to facilities being closed or returned to state oper.ation: Nationwide, private facilities.have been . struggling : to , fill capacity, often .importing ,prisoners from’ other’ states.. In ,.=. 2000 ; ‘ .’.Corrections Corporation of America came within a hair’s breadth of declaring bankhiPtcy, -and. continues to. operate in. the, red, with, 12;000 ’empty beds systern-wide. New private prison contracts have virtually dried, up. In . September of 2000, Bus i ‘less. Week concluded “the: industry’s heyday may already be history.” But don’t_ cry for theiu ,yet: At least ,one. major private prison operator, Wackenhut Corporation, has seen its stock price jump in the aftermath of September . 1L. Companies . across America are spending money on heightened workplace security, a niche in which Wackenhut ‘is also a major player. Meanwhile, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, traditional ly a big customer of private prisons and jails, has arrested thousands of people in connection with the federal investigation into the attacks, providing a quick infusion of cash into the industry. How temporary that windfall will be remains to be seen. Here in Texas, there are hints of a slowdown in the prison boom. Legislators last session balked at committing to any major new construction projects. Absent any sentencing reform, however, there will still be plenty of money to be made in Texas prisons. As critics of the U.S. military have warned for years, institutions, even peculiar ones, have ‘a way of perpetuating themselves. Walkingamong the booths and the bustling sales reps at the convention center, it’s hard to imagine this one disappearing anytime soon. Anne Farbman is a freelance writer living in Austin.’ Editorial, continued from page 3 -.Texas A&M football,” he told the ”Houston Chronicle. \(Depressing, but . Wendy may very well wind up testifying in front of one of many Congressional…panels currently investigating the meltdown. Does TexasA&M,. which -alreadywent through a series of scandals invOlv . ing . dishonest or incompetent administrators in the mid-’90s, really need the headache? To say the least, it’s not exactly an auspicious start for-a potential. university -.president, whose main job, after all, is to raise money for the school. For all hiS railing against government waste, Granun owes his entire livelihood to public spending, .from hiS , birth:in a military hospital to his National Defense Fellowship in graduate school, to his career at A&M and in Washington: It’s time for him to try the private sector for awhile where his sympathies have always lain anywayand he should take his wife with him. NB 3/15/02. THE TEXAS OBSERVER ’31