Prisoners And The Profit Motive


From top: Mountjoy Prison: Eamonn Kelly

Writer Eamonn Kelly’s investigation of job activation schemes in Ireland prompted him to look at the prospect of another foreign import: prisons for profit.

Eamonn writes:

I remarked in one of the JobPath articles that we here in Ireland enjoyed an advantage in being able to assess the effects of particular trends in Britain, with a two or three-year time lapse before they landed here.

The advantage of foresight we enjoy by looking at developments in social policy in the United States can be counted in the decades.

A story that recently emerged from New Mexico contains a salutary warning for us here in Ireland in our current blind rush into the privatization of public services.

Last week, an article about a US detention services provider called CoreCivic, (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), the second largest private prison operator in the United States, described how the company found itself short of prisoners at one its facilities in Torrance County, New Mexico, after legislative reforms began to dry up the supply of convicts coming on stream.

The company were demanding that the government come up with 300 prisoners within 60 days, or it would close the facility, resulting in 200 job losses.

The company, which has been providing prison services in the area for almost 30 years, and which has been repeatedly sued for various offences, including “sexual harassment, sexual assault, deaths, use of force, physical assaults, medical care injuries and civil rights violations,” is now essentially holding the government to ransom to provide prisoners for its private prison system.

While looking into that story, I came across this article from France, that more than concurs with the thrust of my suspicions concerning the puzzling “criminal” question that was put to Irish Jobseekers in November 2015, as reported in the Irish Sun. (I know, not exactly the paper of “record”).

I hypothesized a scenario that showed there might be a profit motive in casting the unemployed as criminal, which I explored in my article “The Investment Potential of Criminalizing the Poor.

The French article begins:

“More than a third of prisons in France are partly run by private companies. The trend towards privatizing the prison system, which began three decades ago, is gaining in momentum.

A handful of companies are capitalizing on this very lucrative market, providing services that include catering, receiving visitors, building detention facilities and organizing prison labour…”

The French, as the article shows, currently pay almost €6 billion a year to private contractors for such services.

Both Working links and Seetec have strong backgrounds in detention services, through contracts with Sodexo Justice Services, which provides prison services around the world, including the 34 French prisons mentioned in the article quoted.

Rehabilitation services was the main business of both companies awarded the JobPath contracts in Ireland, which may explain the tone and attitude of the JobPath service, where unemployed people are treated as “guilty” of being unemployed and in need of rehabilitation, in an atmosphere with more than a whiff of incarceration about it.

With all the signing in and out, the policing of time, the questioning of character and integrity, the deliberate parole officer style relationship, it is as if the main thrust of the JobPath model is in grooming Jobseekers into becoming accustomed to prison-like protocols.

This is not quite the “training” that many people might regard as being conducive to the development of grassroots entrepreneurial zeal.

An entrepreneurial spirit that might, if it were cultivated and invested in, help lift the economy with local enterprise, rather than us always having to depend solely on the Big Apple’s of the world to hire us as poor, hapless economic eejits.

Instead, we fund a system apparently deliberately designed to destroy self-motivation and personal initiative, in order to create people in need of “help” and “rehabilitation”, who can then be serviced by private corporate interests in exchange for public funds collected and set aside by the community for the provision of social protection.

The model is a kind of economic vampirism, and may, for you lit students out there, cast some light on the sudden popularity of vampires in recent decades that, as far as I can tell, appears to have originated in the US.

Could be a decent subject for a thesis: is there a relationship between the trajectory of blue-collar wage cuts and the rise in popularity of vampire fiction?

In New Mexico, a spoksperson for CoreCivic said,

“The city of Estancia and the surrounding community have been a great partner to CoreCivic for the last 27 years . . . a declining detainee population in general has forced us to make difficult decisions in order to maximize utilization of our resources.”

That quote encapsulates an aspect of the approach I remarked upon in Part Four of my JobPath series: the gaining of public approval for the private company’s operations.

Here the community are described as a “great partner” in the system. The other part of the concept, gaining the “agreement” of the subjects to participate in the system, in the case of JobPath this was acquired by coercion, as shown in Part 5 in the series, has long since evolved in the US system into simple management of prison populations, with stringent Federal legislation, such as the three strikes law, providing plenty of raw material to the private prisons system.

Ironically, it was as a result of reforms in the justice system in the Obama era, that the supply of “raw material” to the private prisons began to dry up, leaving the private company in New Mexico having to make “difficult decisions” to ensure its own economic survival.

Difficult decisions like, blackmailing Torrance County to provide them with more prisoners, threatening job losses for failure to comply.

Journalist Steven Rosenfeld writes,

“This is a perfect snapshot of what’s upside-down with privatization: the lack of economic opportunities and politicians who genuflect at providing jobs, regardless of the larger social implications, pushing law enforcement into the dirty business of ramping up arrests and convictions so private firms and shareholders can make more money.”

The town of Estancia, New Mexico, now finds itself in a dilemma. If it does not come up with 300 fresh prisoners for the private company, the company will close the facility as unprofitable.

If this happens, the town will lose 200 jobs and an estimated $700,000 annually in commerce, while the surrounding Torrance County would lose $300,000 dollars in tax revenues, and will also be left with the problem of accommodating the 700 Federal prisoners that the private facility currently caters for.

Torrance County, New Mexico, desperately needs an “investment” of 300 fresh prisoners.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance writer.

Pic: Rollingnews


37 thoughts on “Prisoners And The Profit Motive

      1. Cian

        Because it’s a massive conspiracy theory – Eamonn is constantly beating the ‘JobPath is bad’ drum, and here he manages to concoct a link to the privatisation of prisons in the US.

        Yes, the info on US prisons is interesting, but it’s nothing to do with Ireland, nothing to do with JobPath.

        “[…]the tone and attitude of the JobPath service, where unemployed people are treated as “guilty” of being unemployed and in need of rehabilitation, in an atmosphere with more than a whiff of incarceration about it.

        With all the signing in and out, the policing of time, the questioning of character and integrity, the deliberate parole officer style relationship, it is as if the main thrust of the JobPath model is in grooming Jobseekers into becoming accustomed to prison-like protocols.”

        Um, no, it’s called getting a job. Most jobs get you to clock in and out – many have a signing in and out. You have to go to your job at pre-assigned tmes (the policing of time) Jobs start with an interview (questioning of character and integrity). in many jobs you are assigned a mentor/more senior person to show you the ropes (deliberate parole officer style relationship).

        We get it Eamonn, you don’t like JobPath, but leave it out of some of your articles.

        1. EK

          I’m “constantly” beating on about JobPath because that was the subject of the series of articles. I notice you are interested in bring the discussion to the same prejudicial simplicity that I set out to challenge. The core point is, and always was throughout the series, that, in the absence of employment possibilities, people have become commodities. The US prison system and particularly the story I cited are examples of this. If you read the story you would realize that the laws of the US had been made deliberately stringent to feed this business. My argument about JobPath is that the companies delivering it were knowingly setting out to cast unemployed people as criminals. My conclusion was that they had the same business model in mind: ie to use people as commodities and raw materials to service potential prison systems for profit. That’s the argument/. I have provided ample proof to demonstrate its validity. But you’re right about one thing. I do regard JobPath as “bad”, as you put it. That’s why I wrote the articles, and this article in particular shows that, far form it being a conspiracy theory, as you put, this type of thing is a business model. Why do you think Turas Nua was asking Jobseekers did they think they would commit a criminal offense? Have you anything to offer this discussion at all, rather the same stupid reductionary prejudice of Get a job?

          1. Rob_G

            “The core point is, and always was throughout the series, that, in the absence of employment possibilities, people have become commodities. “

            – Full-time employment is growing at its fastest rate since 1999, with Ireland set to reach full employment by the end of next year

            My argument about JobPath is that the companies delivering it were knowingly setting out to cast unemployed people as criminals.”

            Commodities – maybe. Criminals, hardly.

            “I have provided ample proof to demonstrate its validity.” – no you haven’t; you gave several examples of the prison industry in the US doing so, none of which is remotely related to employment activisation services in Ireland.

            Have you anything to offer this discussion at all, rather the same stupid reductionary prejudice of Get a job?” – this is good advice; if you devoted as much time to finding a job as you did to blaming everyone for the fact that you don’t have one, I’m sure you would have found something by now.

      1. Peter Dempsey

        But no concern for the victims of violent crime. The people that the prisoners have hurt or maimed.

        1. anne

          Majority are not locked up for voilent crimes..

          Imprisoning a staggering number of our people is wrong. The way our nation does it is even worse. We must end mass incarceration, now.

          If I’m walking down the street with a Black or Latino friend, my friend is way more likely to be stopped by the police, questioned, and even arrested. Even if we’re doing the exact same thing—he or she is more likely to be convicted and sent to jail.

          Unless we recognize the racism and abuse of our criminal justice system and tackle the dehumanizing stereotypes that underlie it, our nation – and our economy – will never be as strong as it could be.

          Please take a moment to watch the accompanying video, and please share it so others can understand what’s at stake for so many Americans.

          Here are the facts:

          Today, the United States has 5 percent of the world’s population, but has 25 percent of its prisoners, and we spend more than $80 billion each year on prisons.

          The major culprit is the so-called War on Drugs. There were fewer than 200,000 Americans behind bars as recently as the mid-70’s. Then, a racially-tinged drug hysteria swept our nation, and we saw a wave of increasingly militant policing that targeted communities of color and poorer neighborhoods.

          1. Twunt

            If there has been a crime do you stop the dorky white/oriental guy or the gangsta lookin black/Latino guy.

            The largest perpetrators of violence in America are black men. Until that changes they will be disproportionatly incarcerated in terms of population makeup.

          2. anne

            read it again. 200,000 prisoners in the 70s to 2.3 million today is not due to people committing more violent crimes.

            it’s a whole industry there. privatise prisons and more prisoners equals more profits.

            judges have been caught taking bribes to ensure they give prison sentences for minor offences.

          3. Twunt

            Does the 3 strikes rule not have a significant role in the larger numbers of people incarcerated?

            Are crime rates down because habitual criminals are incarcerated for longer under the 3 strikes rule?

        2. Luke Warm

          That wasn’t the subject of the article. We can find some victims support group for you if you want.

        3. EK

          It’s not ignoring the fact of violent criminals. The point is about prison being used as a private “service” to manage people, and how this has been used as a business model which, in the US, was facilitated, for profit, by making it easier to convict people, the majority of whom were poor and black or brown. I summed it up in the title of an article called The Investment Potential of Criminalizing the Poor. The ideas in that article I later discovered were also addressed in the article from France, which I gave a link to in this article. The link to JobPath was that it seems to be predicated on an assumption that the unemployed are criminals of a sort. It occurred to me that it might convenient for these companies to regard unemployed people as criminals, since to do so would qualify them for other “services” that these companies provide. This article and the articles that it links to demonstrate that this most likely the case.

  1. Rob_G

    “look at the prospect of another foreign import…”

    – has the government actually indicated that they want to privatise prison services? Or is this Eamonn having a bit of a vent?

    1. Rob_G

      JobPath should make the dole heads work in the new private prisons, kill two birds with one stone.

      1. EK

        It is. JobPath created around 500 hundred jobs in Ireland. These jobs are the ones where they manage the people who are unemployed. Do you get it? That’s the whole point. If you read the article form New Mexico you would immediately notice that the main bargaining chip for the 300 prisoners was the threat of 200 job losses.

          1. EK

            All you have to offer is prejudice, insult, quotes out of context and nonsense. You should run for Fine Gael.

    2. EK

      Read the article and accompanying articles. The answer is already there. But really, your objection is just another way of saying Shoot the messenger.

  2. Jake38

    I’ve a suggestion. Let’s send 300 of our criminal skangers to New Mexico. Everyone’s happy!

    1. EK

      What criminal skankgers? Do you mean actual criminals, or do you mean unemployed people? It’s an important distinction. Because your smart-arsed comment seems to suggest that you are happy enough to regard the unemployed as criminal and deserving of prison. So, what’s your position?

  3. Andy

    More rubbish from this author.

    CCA is a publicly listed company. The contract for the Torrance county prison is with the US Marshal Services, not with the local town. Occupancy is about 55% at this facility which is now run on rolling annual contract renewals. This prison represents about 1.3% of it’s total owned bed capacity and wouldn’t have any impact on CCAs “economic survival”.

    1. EK

      Are you contradicting me, or contradicting the article about the New Mexico story? And in what way exactly is this article that I have offered, rubbish? Please explain. And since you have referred to it as “more” rubbish, I can only assume that you are aware of other articles I have written, which you also regard as “rubbish”, so, state your case. “Rubbish” is not an argument. In what exactly are these articles “rubbish”? Demonstrate what you mean.

  4. Sean

    Really good article, thanks Eamon.
    One thing to bear in mind re the Irish situation. While the parole type system described definitely fits with aspects of modern prison industrial complex theory, the real site of entry for this type of system into Ireland is direct provision where known leading operators from the US prison system such as Ar@mark are already dominant in the Irish market. Here supply can be boosted by rising homelessness and increasing refugee numbers, both of which the public are demanding action on. So long as direct provision exists, solutions to the homeless and refugee crises in Ireland will involve privatised incarceration models as standard using public money to line the pockets of massive global corporates.

      1. Sean

        @Cian Agreed, ‘dominant’ may have been overstating it. Aramark have a 12% share in the direct provision market according to my source (link below). However these are for all costs including accommodation. In terms of food provision to direct provision centres, I am confident (but not 100% certain) that Aramark feature high u there as a dominant player. It’s unclear from the information I can gather whether Mosney Holidays feed their charges directly or if this is done through catering companies including Aramark and East Coast Catering (who received 12.2million in state money for direct provision services between them last year).

        Which is the Canadian company? Any info gratefully received as it can be tricky to find complete information on the Direct Provision system.

        @Eamonn: the question of food provision is a serious one. An acquaintance of mine does workshops with people in direct provision and provision of food is a major issue for them. They can find themselves being fed the same burger and chips or equivalent day-in day-out and apparently ethnic and religious dietary considerations are often met in the most paltry of ways. Not having the autonomy to cook what you would like might seem like a small complaint in the context of direct provision but it’s a significant one for those living this reality daily. Of course it would be cheaper and healthier to allow people cook for themselves but where would the corporate profit be in that?

    1. EK

      Thanks Sean. I appreciate the supportive comment. Good point about the direct provision situation. I read an article about it recently and it really showed up how lax our lot are in these areas, and how happy they seem in just passing the buck to private interests.

  5. Kolmo

    $0.23 per hour labour costs in the US private prison industry to produce military equipment, furniture, Uniforms for fast food companies, car parts among other items – why wouldn’t they capitalise and profiteer from social chaos and huge incarceration rates? The scope for corruption in that system is laughable – I’m surprised the ghouls hovering in the background of FG/FF haven’t managed to monetize it yet..

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