In response to “America’s Costliest War” and “Drugs are Bad, but the War Is Worse” (Messenger, Nov. 10, 2012): A tip of the hat to Rusty White for speaking out about the drug war. And of course, great articles. You nailed it down on all points save one: the private prison system.
Think of contractors like Wackenhut and CCD, folks that have even set up shop here in Bridgeport. Turning the penal system over to the private sector created these businesses with a financial interest in keeping growing numbers of Americans behind bars. The higher the prison population, the more their business grows.
Naturally, then, these companies’ best investment isn’t in more bars and more guards. It’s in getting more people into the penal system! They accomplish this through lobbying for harsher sentencing and a continuation of the failed drug war.
For government officials involved, these severe sentences are also good politics. Supporting them makes officials look tough on crime, while also getting them campaign funds through penal company lobbyists. It’s a situation with no downside for lobbyists, private prison companies and politicians, but with enormous social and budgetary setbacks for the nation as a whole.
I can get behind many libertarian arguments, but the penal system is a prime example of one government function that should NEVER be privatized. In fact, it’s probably costing us more this way, once things like CEO salaries and stockholder dividends are taken into account.
Hence, things aren’t going to change until we as citizens see through to what’s really going on at every level of government. Ask an elected official if they support harsher sentencing for nonviolent offenders. If they say yes, then we know where they stand, and what industry’s pocket they might be in.
This is where we, as citizens and voters, need to wake up, see through the crap and be heard. Make it bad politics to press for harsher sentencing, especially on nonviolent crime, and vote against any expansion of the private penal system. By voting officials out of office who would continue this failed approach, at every level of government, we’ll finally turn this situation around.
When that trend happens, we can look at regulation, taxation and treating the drug problem as what it really is: a public health problem, not a criminal justice problem. And who knows? Depending on how much money this problem eats up, it could really help balance government budgets to boot. Finally then, our good officers could get back to dealing with real criminals.
Angelou del Angel
EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks for the letter. Rusty White actually had plenty to say about the private prison system and its role in the drug war. We just ran out of space.