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Populist hypocrisy should not stop prison privatization

Populism and hypocrisy can make for a potent mix, but it still may not be enough to derail efforts to improve Louisiana state government efficiency, as long as Gov. Bobby Jindal stays committed to achieving it.

Jindal and his legislative allies had to trim sail a bit on a measure that would allow for selling the Avoyelles Correctional Center that could have pumped $35 million into the Budget Stabilization Fund, but have retained the option for it to be operated by the private sector, as are Allen and Winn Correctional Centers presently, at an estimated $7 million a year. Unfortunately, legislators don’t get much political mileage out of telling the folks back home they stuffed away more money into a savings account for a rainy day, as compared to what small but intense constituencies can bring to oppose such items. It’s those special interests that want to scuttle the savings as well.

The leading loudmouth in this regard is state Rep. Robert Johnson, who has Avoyelles in his district. In floor debate on HB 850 that would set the stage for that facility’s private sector operation, Johnson said of private correctional facilities operators, “They're trying to make profits, they're not worried about safety,” and claimed staff turnover was almost nonexistent at Avoyelles, compared to high turnover at Winn, thereby arguing that as the profit motive encouraged lower wages, therefore higher turnover that resulted led to less safe conditions.

But this case to try to convince other legislators that privatization would lead to less security for both corrections workers and the public began to unravel anecdotally when state Rep. Jim Fannin noted that he had heard of no problems at Winn, in his district. And Fannin had plenty of hard evidence on which to draw had he known of it or cared to do so.

Generally, over two decades of social science research shows a number of studies concluding privately-run prisons do as good of a job in terms of quality as government-run ones at cost savings, while others show little difference monetarily and in quality, but almost none show privatized prisons actually do a worse job than state facilities. Salaries are lower (although not as low as Johnson’s reckless claim that they are half the $60,000 average paid to these workers in Louisiana – well above both the median family income in Louisiana and what many people with multiple college degrees earn) and turnover is higher (two to three times) in privatized prisons than in public ones.

And on the specifics of the safety matter, Johnson is a dunce. Just how unsafe are Louisiana state prisons to the public, public and private? In fiscal year 2009, by way of example, from them there was exactly one escape. All have accreditation from the American Correctional Association, part of which means meeting certain security standards. And, inexcusable for a policy-maker making public pronouncements, Johnson simply is stupidly ignorant about the turnover at Avoyelles already – 21 percent on an annual basis according to the latest data.

More to the point, if privatized prisons are such a threat to public safety, where are Johnson’s bills to remove Allen and Winn from that status? If he thinks this is such an impediment to the public good, why did he never bring up this issue until last year, when Jindal first began to stump for additional prison privatization? Only a hypocrite would claim in voice that to head in a certain direction represented inferior policy, but in behavior have allowed that to continue in other cases and only objecting when it seems his own personal interests are at stake rather than following principle.

That personal stake, of course, is reelection and continuing to pursue power and privilege. Fleecing unknowing taxpayer in order to overpay state workers in your district creates happy constituents of an elected official. It also satisfies the ideology of others, such as state Rep. Sam Jones, who in his opposition argued that in fact it was the taxpayers’ job to subsidize state workers beyond what the market values their positions in the name of economic development.

It’s just this backwards populism that has kept Louisianans relatively poor and less educated. Genuine economic development that would increase general prosperity and attract those of greater educational attainment from elsewhere while encouraging those with that capacity to stay in the Louisiana workforce, thereby feeding that development, historically has been circumvented by just this kind of thinking. Hopefully, Jindal and his allies won’t fold on this issue as happened last year and allow this asinine attitude to defeat progress in the state yet again.


Anonymous said...

"Unfortunately, legislators don’t get much political mileage out of telling the folks back home they stuffed away more money into a savings account for a rainy day, as compared to what small but intense constituencies can bring to oppose such items."

Before you make another dumb statement like this you should get CB Forgoston to explain the impact of this $ He did a great job.

However, if all you want to do is kiss jindal's ass you don't need any facts.

Mr. Harris Plutocrat said...

Yawn. For new readers, let me explain what is happening here. Jeff has a reflexive hatred of liberals that occasionally manifests in a knee-jerk reaction to favor privatization of something that most people agree ought to remain public. It's really just a chance to demonize liberals as anti-capitalists. It's great that he calls out opposition as "populists and hypocrites." Any regular reader of this blog can see right through Jeff's support for populist demagogue politicians that are also often hypocritical.

For the record, Sadow points to Gerald G. Gaes' study. Gaes argues for privatizing everything, from prisons to prosecution to adjudication to postrelease supervision and even policing, not to mention "almost any publicly administered service." That is: he advocates to privatize absolutely everything. This is a person who Sadow looks to for his supposedly unbiased review. In reality, Sadow just picks someone who agrees with, and advocates for, his preconceived ideology. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what Sadow teaches for a living! It's just so transparently stupid that you have to sit back in awe.

As for public safety, spare me the Louisiana conservative lecture. Louisiana is one of the most dangerous states in one of the most dangerous countries, yet it has the highest incarceration rate of any state in a country that is one of the worst in terms of incarceration. Obviously, what we're doing around here isn't working. Perhaps if we force children to chant the pledge of allegiance a few more times in the morning at school we can turn the tide back, right Jeff? Or maybe a few anti-science measures? Lets be honest, Jeff: Louisiana jails are awful. Recidivism is embarrassingly high. Conditions are so bad that the federal govt is even pulling out of Orleans Parish Prison. And now you want to cut corners? Jeff, relative to the liberal states, Louisiana and the deep south is economically retarded by generations, not to mention backwards on nearly every cultural, political and social justice issue. You don't solve this by building a bunch of new prisons to house more and more minorities, or by stripping away voting rights of minorities. All these stupid bills you conservatives are coughing up is a bunch of populist garbage from a bunch of hypocritical, whiney, hateful idiots, just like you.

Anonymous said...

The Scorecard got his sail trimmed a bit, huh?

Looked more like good old political hardball where, despite having all the bats, balls and the umpire, the Scorecard could not hold on to the lead. He lost the game.

When he loses a game, you, the loyal Gofer, always come out, demonize everyone on the winning team and ascribe the loss to some aberration that only a sophisticated political scientist could discern.

What hooey!!!!!!

God forbid, if we ever reach the point, as you recommend, that we run this state on what the social scientists this is best for us!!!

Mr. Harris Plutocrat said...

Here's another reason that people like Jeff ought to feel shame. In fact, we should all feel shame about this prison privatization plan, and the whole problem of our society locking up so many people in such awful conditions. Here is a "free market" story of prison privatization run amok. It's a story of private prisons turned into capitalists after noticing that their captives can be coerced to make widgets for pennies:

"The Corrections Corporation of America and G4S (formerly Wackenhut), two prison privatizers, sell inmate labor at subminimum wages to Fortune 500 corporations like Chevron, Bank of America, AT&T and IBM. These companies can, in most states, lease factories in prisons or prisoners to work on the outside. All told, nearly a million prisoners are now making office furniture, working in call centers, fabricating body armor, taking hotel reservations, working in slaughterhouses or manufacturing textiles, shoes and clothing, while getting paid somewhere between 93 cents and $4.73 per day."

Of course, the prison population is heavily minorities. Should we feel uncomfortable that in the land of the most repressive racial subjugation that the powerful are finding new ways to keep the boot on the throat of minorities. This kind of story doesn't make it into Jeff's inbox; he's too busy shrieking about liberals. But if he did notice, he'd just think up some reflexive excuse, and maybe draw up some right-wing "study" that satisfies himself that his prejudice and bigotry is actually righteousness.