Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Get-out-of-jail-free card

The election of Donald Trump means many things - just one of which is a significant morale (and profit) boost for the private prison sector, which was looking under increasing threat during Obama's presidency.

James Surowiecki's piece for the New Yorker demonstrates the jaw-dropping scale and influence of the "incarceration industry" in the US, which lobbies (successfully) for changes to law enforcement policy that are in its own interests. The article also underlines the problems that inevitably arise when the pursuit of profit is prioritised over anything else (including inmate welfare). Most obviously, rehabilitation and the prevention of repeat offending - the primary purpose of imprisonment, surely - is completely at odds with a business model in which larger numbers confined in cells translates to larger numbers on spreadsheets.

As Surowiecki explains, there did seem to be evidence during Obama's administration that the tide was turning against the industry, but the fact that the president elect is a fierce champion of privatisation and unfettered capitalism as well as a tough talker on immigration certainly suggests that for private prisons, business could soon be booming like never before.

To most of us on this side of the Atlantic, the sorry state of affairs in the US resembles something out of a dystopian Orwellian fantasy - and yet we shouldn't feel so comfortable and complacent that it couldn't happen here. With the Tories intent on continuing to place the provision of public services in the hands of private businesses, we could yet face a similarly nightmarish future.

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

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