Acknowledging DOJ Report on Private Prisons
There has been a lot of buzz recently about a report on private prisons released by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.$. Department of Justice (DOJ), and the subsequent memo from the Attorney General announcing they will phase out the use of private prisons for federal detention.(1)
The petty-bourgeois anti-corporate capitalists who have been campaigning against private prisons for a long time are seeing this announcement as a result of their organizing work. And it's possible that on some level the announcements are an effort by the DOJ to quell the slew of recent bad publicity.(2) Yet we disagree with these campaigners' idea that capitalism is okay so long as the petty-bourgeoisie is allowed to compete. We disagree with their stance that prisons under capitalism function for the common good so long as the private corporations get out the way. We see more similarities between state-run and privately-operated facilities than we see differences.
The facilities that the DOJ is talking about closing house mostly non-citizens,(3) which raises questions for us as to what is the real intention or cause of this change, and what's coming down the line for the enforcement of U.$. borders. We have no reason to believe this shift from the BOP has anything to do with more freedom or better treatment for non-citizens.
Capitalists follow money. In the 1980s, there was increased imprisonment rates and a need for more housing for prisoners, which state bureaucracy couldn't build fast enough. So capitalists built prison facilities in order to get money from the state. They kept costs as low as possible and tried to keep capacity as full as possible. The cause and effect is basic math. Obviously when putting profits over people there are many inherent problems that will come up. Eventually, as the capitalists are accustomed to, their venture would need to change shape. It appears the time to change shape is imminent.
We don't know what back-room deals broke down or were made that led to the report and memo. Did the DOJ just strike a better deal with a private busing company, to expedite the deportation of these migrants?(4) Was the pressure to change significantly more influential from the corrections officers unions, who are excluded from employment in private facilities?(5) Is it more closely related to a reduction in the federal prison population overall, and private prisons are just being used as a convenient scapegoat? "Increased prosecution of unlawful entry and re-entry" has been touted as a "hallmark of President Obama's enforcement policies," is the Democratic Party just trying to save face leading up to the next presidential election?(6) Is there something else that has yet to be uncovered, that helped expedite the decision? And as we imply above, maybe the capitalists have simply found a more profitable use for their facilities and are welcoming this change.(7) We seriously doubt the DOJ decided to phase out the use of private prisons on moral grounds.
There is something to be said about the difficulties in operating a prison with extremely bad conditions, whether private or publicly run. Oppression breeds resistance. Where we see riots in private prisons literally burn them to the ground and make them uninhabitable, we haven't seen the same level of resistance in public facilities in a long time.(8) Commentators have cited common nationality as helpful in non-citizen prisoners organizing themselves (in contrast to the divided populations of most multi-national prisons in the United $tates). Also, being a migrant with more to gain than lose in resisting, responding to extreme oppression is natural and necessary.
The state has a long-term interest in balancing their ongoing oppression with some rewards for those who play along. We see this constantly in our organizing work: there are many abuses, and grievances are denied without grounds, but if the prisoners have TVs and nudie mags many are happy to go with the flow and not stir up any trouble. The private prison companies either haven't mastered this delicate balance, or don't care because their interests for profit are so short-term and immediate. When the cost-benefit analysis is no longer in their favor, they'll just move on to a different industry where the profit margin is higher. The state's long-term interest of social control of oppressed internal semi-colonies, however, can't afford the same luxury.