04 September 2016

Dystopia Revisited

by Leigh Lundin

By definition, prisons stay out of view of the public eye, and, as Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo taught us, citizens are all too happy to ignore the abuses carried on behind locked bars. Fast forward a century or so where sci-fi acts as a literary bellwether: The golden age of science fiction introduced the concept of corporations taking over a number of government functions often beginning with prison systems. Back then, company prisons were considered too fantastical to appear outside dark imaginations.

Until commercialized incarceration arrived with a vengeance.

Corporation Glossary
BOP • Federal Bureau of Prisons
CCA • Corrections Corporation of America
GEO • formerly Wackenhut formerly G4S
MTC • Management and Training Corp
CCS • Correct Care Solutions (medical)
Bad Tidings

As both Eve and I have written, corporations have found numerous ways to profit from prisoners and take every opportunity to capitalize upon the misery of others. Practices include charging extravagant court and jailhouse fees, usurious interest rates, and for food and ‘accommodations’ in state and federal prisons. These fees make it impossible for many prisoners to ever get out of debt. Although the US has banned debtors’ prisons, courts in the pockets of prison corporations continue to incarcerate those who cannot pay. Indeed, it’s possible for a poor person to be adjudged not guilty and still end up imprisoned for failure to pay jail costs and legal fees. Lobbyists see to it that more and more citizens receive ever longer sentences. It’s good for business and best of all, nobody cares.

It’s come to light that corporate prisons have been ignoring constitutional rights. True, county jails and state prisons have abused prisoners and even served rotting food, but corporations made the assumption they’re not responsible for upholding Amendments to the Constitution. Companies have been caught recording attorney-client sessions… then sharing them. Prison apologists say private enterprise shouldn’t be forced to obey BoP rules because it reduces profits.

But there’s worse. Corporations have implemented a form of slavery right here in the US. If a man or boy refuses to work, he can be punished severely, tasered, thrown in solitary confinement, and even killed. In recent years, Florida’s corporate prisons have become so unsafe, that an inmate per day dies, often murdered by guards or other prisoners. In case you question the term ‘murder’, read the reports. Guards even steamed one prisoner alive, reportedly leaving pieces of his body in the shower.

Within the special federal immigrant contract prisons, the numbers are also appalling regarding so-called ‘medical care’, occasionally provided by CCS. In cases where records were available, medical and mortality reviews determined the quality of medical service was inadequate and in more than a third of cases, directly contributed to prisoners’ deaths. Private companies understaff with LPNs/LVNs, which require no more than a year of study beyond a GED, and permit them to diagnose and prescribe. Rather than sending out lab work, evidence suggest LPNs tended to ‘eyeball’ samples and and simply (and wrongly) guess.

Sad Tidings

Corrections Corporation of America
Geo Group
Management and Training Corporation
Correct Care Solutions
I very much believe in free enterprise, an almost magical engine that works automatically… under the right circumstances. When it comes to economics, I’m also a pragmatician if not a pragmatist. If an industry isn’t regulated, i.e, policed, it will devolve into exploitation and even criminality. We’ve learned time and again that industries cannot police themselves.

By definition, free enterprise also implies that a percentage of people will be unemployed at any given time. If you want 100% employment, turn to socialism, but don’t expect dynamics or efficiency in managed production and consumption. An economy sails best that steers itself.

But economics can resemble religion: capitalists versus communists, free trade versus tariffs. Religionists are convinced they’re right and everyone else is wrong. Both extremes don’t take into account human factors and that’s what prisons are about… assuming you’re among the percentage who still believe the incarcerated are human too. Esquire Magazine used the term ‘faceless bureaucratic indifference to human suffering’ in a different context, but it definitely applies here.

Then we learned the much touted cost-savings to taxpayers turned out moot.

Glad Tidings

As safety, rehabilitation programs, food quality and medical care plummeted, mayhem, injuries and deaths shot up. Protests and property damage increased as well. Our own Eve Fisher touched on mental health and prison terror here and here and here and here.

Mother Jones journalist Shane Bauer went undercover as a prison guard and is being sued by CCA for his trouble. CCA would very much like their policy to remain “What happens here, stays here.” You know, where the bodies are buried.

But the news is promising. Despite furious lobbying and campaign donations, the Justice Department has ordered private contracts with prison corporations not be renewed, concluding corporate administration is less effective and safe. This decision does not apply to the appalling immigration prisons mentioned above nor to the far larger population in state prisons.

Our beloved Florida governor has been the states’ own best lobbyist for corporate prisons with disastrous results. It remains to be seen whether situations will change at the state level. But at least we can give thanks that for federal relief and corporate karma.


  1. A good piece. The Times had a piece this last week about why some rural areas have a high rate of incarceration- as you suggest, the answer is money.

  2. Janice, financial records suggest CCA alone spends $1-million a year on federal lobbying and nearly another million on national level campaign donations. The real profits come from the states where the spotlight shines less brightly. No one knows how much the prison corporations spend on state lobbying and campaign donations to governors and legislators… except that the numbers are huge.

    Let us not forget some of these companies are multinational, now operating in Australia, South Africa, the UK, and other countries.

  3. This is a disturbing piece, Leigh. I'll admit I don't know much about this problem--I had no idea there were so many privately owned prisons. I'll have to become better informed--as you suggest, public ignorance is part of the problem.

  4. Bonnie, part of the SOP is to lobby heavily but not advertise. Unless you're an investor or work closely with prisons like Eve, it's easy to overlook what's going on.

  5. “…it’s possible for a poor person to be adjudged not guilty and still end up imprisoned for failure to pay jail costs and legal fees.”

    This beggars belief.

    A disturbing piece. Having read it, we cannot now plead ignorance.

  6. The G4S (G-force?) we used to see is part of GEO. And what a benign name, 'Management and Training'… sounds like a business education company.

  7. You should know that your G4S/GEO is employed by the Australian government to keep immigrants in horrifying conditions in PNG and elsewhere. These guards decided it wasn't their duty to protect prisoners who were beaten and at least one or more killed. GEO puppets will serve like mercenaries anyone who pays them and do any dirty deed without regard for human decency or compassion. You don't know dystopia until you understand what is really going on.


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