As a state legislator, Walker was a cheerleader for privatizing the state prison system.
As Milwaukee County Executive, Walker privatized many parts of the county. He also developed a modus operandi to do so. He would arbitrarily claim a fiscal emergency, which was usually contrived if not an outright falsehood. Then to "balance the budget," he would lay off several workers, usually focusing on one department. This would leave said department so understaffed that they were doomed to start failing. He would then use their failing performance as a rationale to privatize said service, usually to a campaign donor.
He did this when he privatized the janitorial services at the courthouse, giving the contract to Edward Aprahamian, a campaign donor. He laid off hundreds of parks workers and gave that work to KEI, another campaign donor (and one tied up in Walkergate). He did the same thing with security guards, giving that contract to GS4, otherwise known as Wackenhut.
I have already written how he is shortchanging the state prisons, cutting the corrections officers pay, stripping them of their civil rights and making the prisons inherently more dangerous by taking away any chance for early release for good behavior.
Because of Walker's attack on the workers, many experienced corrections officers retired. This left a staffing shortage which meant ramped up overtime costs. The increasingly unsafe conditions caused there to be more injuries to officers, putting them on FMLA, leaving the prisons even further understaffed and running up costs ever higher, much more than Walker ever claimed to be saving.
This might shock the gentle reader, but when Walker made his pre-recall claim that he had actually knocked down the overtime costs, he was lying through his teeth. The reality is that the prisons are still very much short-handed and are still racking up overtimes costs
Waupun Correctional Institution is down at least 40 officers. At the Columbia Correctional Institution, they have 34 officers out on FMLA and have more than 30 vacancies on top of that. Word is at CCI, you can count on automatically being forced to work a 16 hour day. At the Jackson Correctional Institution, many of the younger people they had just hired are already leaving in droves, taking jobs at Ashley Furniture, Bush Beans or the brewery. Stanley Correctional Institution also are losing lots of people for private sector work.
The state is unable to keep up with the vacancies. They budgeted extra money to hold three separate jailers training courses, but couldn't get enough applicants to fill even one of them. All three training sessions have been cancelled due to lack of interest.
And it's not just the corrections officers that are coming up short. In Jackson, the state sent out 70 letters for three positions as Office Operations Assistant. They got only three responses. Likewise, at the New Lisbon Correctional Institution, they had three social worker positions open, but only got three responses.
With the high level of unemployment in the state and the way that the right wing has described public workers as having such high salaries and luxurious benefits, one might have thought people would have been pounding on the doors demanding a chance for these jobs.
But the fact is, people know the truth. They know that the they would get treated like dirt and get paid less than dirt. They also know that the few remaining benefits that might have made the job tolerable, if not appealing, will soon be under attack as soon as the legislature reconvenes in the new year. And that's only if Walker doesn't call a special session to try to get it done before is arraignment and indictment.
So we have the recipe for disaster, a vast shortage of trained and experienced staff and an ever escalating overtime cost. This fits right into Walker's formula for privatization. Especially if a tragedy occurs, such as what happened in the Milwaukee County House of Corrections when Alexander Orlowski died due to staff being burnt out from too much overtime.
And we know that Walker has been thinking about this very thing. Private prisons, even though they have a very poor track record regarding safety, abuse and neglect, are still very popular among Republicans. Most likely this stems from the fact that private prisons is a goal of ALEC.
As a state legislator, Walker was key in getting inmates shipped out of state to private prisons owned by Corrections Corporation of America (how's that for an ominous name in Corporate Fitzwalkerstan), a company with a very bad track record in regards to safety and treating its workers fairly or even decently. CCA still has a lobbyist in the state and is surely licking their chops at the thought of getting another helping of our tax dollars.
Earlier this year, CCA got a contract with the State of Ohio, and sent out a similar proposal to all of the other states. The terms of their contract with Ohio is absolutely vulgar and appalling (emphasis mine):
Ohio just guaranteed to have a quota of people that will be arrested and jailed for 20 years?! How much do you want to bet that the targeted population to help them meet that quota will be the minorities and the poor, both of which are usually disproportionately incarcerated already? What if there is a drop in crime and they can't meet that quota? Will they have police start arresting people for jaywalking and slapping them in jail? Or will they just up the racial profiling and get more arrests for driving while black? Maybe they'll outlaw public display of affections for homosexuals. It's utterly frightening when the government is guaranteeing a minimal amount of incarcerated persons.
To uphold its part of the deal, Ohio has promised to keep the prison at 90 percent capacity for the duration of the 20-year contract.
The CCA letter invites governments with "challenging corrections budgets" to consider the benefits, including the payment of property and sales taxes, potential for further job growth and vitality to the local economy. Ohio officials say they will save $3 million a year in prison operating costs.
We also know, via Cory Liebmann at Eye on Wisconsin, that Walker's top aids have been meeting with officials from Wackenhut, another big name in the private corrections business and a favorite of Walker's for years. They must be very generous with their campaign donations.
There are, sad to say, a lot of people out there that think privatization is a great thing and are under the false assumption that it actually saves taxpayers money without cutting services. This is, of course, utter hogwash and as far from reality as one can get.
The Corrections Project has done a study into the "benefits of private prisons. Needless to say, the come up pretty damn short:
Some claim that private prisons really don't save money, but like any for-profit business, attempt to maximize their own profit. This results in a reduction of essential services within the prison -- from medical care, food and clothing to staff costs and security -- at the endangerment of the public, the inmates and the staff.And that is not all:
Other critiques are concerned with the power and influence of for-profit prisons. At a time when much of public discourse is questioning the war-on-crime and the war-on-drugs being fought as wars, critics claim that the incentive of profit skews public discourse away from reasoned debate about viable solutions to social problems.
And finally, grasping the demographic make-up of today's prisons in the US and the history that's produced this make-up (roughly 50% African-American, 35% Latino and 15% White), the privatization of prisons threatens to re-institute a link between race and commerce that has not been seen since the 1800's.
Although the predominant myths about PRIVATIZATION (whether of prisons or anything else) claim that privatization means tax savings for the public, it actually costs us more. Even though on paper a private agency or corporation may present a lower figure to do the same job, once that money has been taken out of the public's hands, it no longer remains ours.Just last month, there was a prison riot in Mississippi. The prison was one owned by CCA. One guard was murdered and a number of inmates were injured. If the gentle reader were to Google private prison riots, they would find scores of examples of this sort of thing happening.
In the public sector, tax money tends to make more of itself, meaning that each public dollar paid through one social service will spend itself four to eight times more elsewhere within the public sector. Once public money goes into private hands however, that money stays there and is gone for good. This is especially true if we consider that privatization corporations are usually given handsome tax breaks and "incentives," in the form of what some people call "corporate welfare," which means we are even less likely to see that money again.
And finally, if we remember that the people who privatize are generally wealthy, this reminds us of an old story where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer -- where the hard earned tax money from each of us is funneled into the hands of the wealthy few for their own personal gain. While we each like to think we don't live in a society like that, today this is justified to us through the myth that "free markets" are the same thing as democracy; that if everything is privatized and ruled by the law of the dollar then democracy will be ensured.
Add this to the fact that prisons do not make us safer and are by far the most expensive way of dealing with what we call "crime," we suffer other costs as well. Social costs of broken families and communities -- of both victims and perpetrators; hidden financial costs like paying for the foster care of prisoners' children; what we will only pay again when a prisoner re-emerges more desperate, addicted, uneducated and disenfranchised than they went in; the vengeance our society seeks through prisons and punishment will cost us twice the price of ensuring true equality, opportunity and social health at the roots of our society.
The PRIVATIZATION OF PRISONS is but one case in which a few people exploit our society's larger problems for their own gain, at a cost we all bear and get little in return.
And just to drive the point home, here is a video taken from another riot, this one in Eagle Mountain, a private prison in California. During the riot, two people were beaten and stabbed to death:
Reports show that the riot was only quelled when state corrections officers came in to stabilize the facility.
The New York Times has been reporting about the problems that have been happening with privatized prisons in New Jersey. Wouldn't you know that the private prison company as ties to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Paul Krugman lays out the reasons that private prisons are so popular, especially among Republicans, despite the obvious failures that they are:
So what’s really behind the drive to privatize prisons, and just about everything else?
One answer is that privatization can serve as a stealth form of government borrowing, in which governments avoid recording upfront expenses (or even raise money by selling existing facilities) while raising their long-run costs in ways taxpayers can’t see. We hear a lot about the hidden debts that states have incurred in the form of pension liabilities; we don’t hear much about the hidden debts now being accumulated in the form of long-term contracts with private companies hired to operate prisons, schools and more.
Another answer is that privatization is a way of getting rid of public employees, who do have a habit of unionizing and tend to lean Democratic in any case.
But the main answer, surely, is to follow the money. Never mind what privatization does or doesn’t do to state budgets; think instead of what it does for both the campaign coffers and the personal finances of politicians and their friends. As more and more government functions get privatized, states become pay-to-play paradises, in which both political contributions and contracts for friends and relatives become a quid pro quo for getting government business. Are the corporations capturing the politicians, or the politicians capturing the corporations? Does it matter?
Now, someone will surely point out that nonprivatized government has its own problems of undue influence, that prison guards and teachers’ unions also have political clout, and this clout sometimes distorts public policy. Fair enough. But such influence tends to be relatively transparent. Everyone knows about those arguably excessive public pensions; it took an investigation by The Times over several months to bring the account of New Jersey’s halfway-house-hell to light.
The point, then, is that you shouldn’t imagine that what The Times discovered about prison privatization in New Jersey is an isolated instance of bad behavior. It is, instead, almost surely a glimpse of a pervasive and growing reality, of a corrupt nexus of privatization and patronage that is undermining government across much of our nation.
We know what they are going to do. The question is how to stop it. The best way is by not letting them get started on it, and that means we have to work are tails off to make sure we maintain a majority in the State Senate and work to get enough seats in the State Assembly. Then we can work on getting rid of Walker.
That is if John Doe doesn't do it for us before 2014.