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Financialization of the Criminal Justice System

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  • Sun, Feb 20, 2011 - 08:58pm



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    Financialization of the Criminal Justice System


Great post, Mike.

Sadly, this is not the exception: 

Former Judge Is on Trial in ‘Cash for Kids’ Scheme
Published: February 8, 2011

SCRANTON, Pa. — A former Pennsylvania judge went on trial in federal court on Tuesday, charged with racketeering, bribery and extortion in what prosecutors say was a $2.8 million scheme to send juvenile delinquents to privately run prisons.

The case against the judge, Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., who presided in Luzerne County, drew national attention for what legal experts say is a dangerous gap in the juvenile justice systems of many states — children appearing in court without lawyers.

Mr. Ciavarella, now 60, sentenced thousands of young people, funneling them into two private detention centers prosecutors say were run by his friends who slipped him payments in a “cash for kids” scheme.

“They turned the Court of Common Pleas into a criminal enterprise,” Mr. Zubrod said. …




That post on the privatization or financialization of prisons is one of the most disturbing trends I’ve come across. The idea that a man’s fate could be, in many circumstances, influenced and determined by profit motives is pretty diabolic. It goes further than the “kids for cash” case. It’s become an established modus operandi of the criminal justice system.

From yesterday:

The privatization of prisons creates additional lobbying pressure for politicians to maintain current levels of prison populations. And as we have seen in New York State, the weak economy is actually pushing many counties in the northern part of the state to explicitly combat prison closings or retrenchment because that is their only source of economic viability.

I would argue that, if anything, economic logics have facilitated, not hindered, our penal excess in the last forty years—which is the essential point of my new book, The Illusion of Free Markets: Punishment and the Myth of Natural Order (Harvard 2011). Our increasing faith in the efficiency of markets has propelled policing and punishment as practically the only space of competence and efficient government intervention. The consequence, whether intended or not, has been to make it easier to resist government intervention in the marketplace, but to embrace the criminalization and punishment of anything we can call disorder. It facilitates passing new criminal statutes and wielding the penal sanction more liberally because, it is illogically believed, that is where government is necessary, that is where the state can legitimately act, that is the proper and competent sphere of politics.

It is truly puzzling how a society marked by such strong fear of big government and skepticism of government efficiency and by such resounding embrace of free market ideals, would paradoxically create the largest government-run prison bureaucracy in the world—in raw numbers or per capita. It is time to put aside the ideology of self-regulation or free markets, and begin to lead the way toward addressing this social disaster.

The answer is not “free-market innovation,” as Grover Norquist suggests in the National ReviewNorquist writes that the only way to reform the prison system to “both keep Americans safe and save money” is if we “return to conservative principles of local control, performance-based funding, and free-market innovation.” The example Norquist uses is Texas, where incarceration rates went down 8 percent while the crime rate dropped 6 percent. Those are great statistics, but what did the “free market” have to do with that? In his own words, Texas took inmates out of prison and “placed them under community supervision, in drug courts, and in short-term intermediate sanctions and treatment facilities.” That’s not free marketeconomics (even if there were such a thing as a free market), that’s recognizing full well that the social sphere is fully regulated and that what we need to do is regulate more wisely. But there is nothing free about it. [Incidentally, this is exactly what was done during the deinstitutionalization of the 1960s].

Reducing Mass Incarceration – It’s Not About “Free-Market