An article this week by Chris Kirkham in the Huffington Post analyzes the merits of states privatizing their prisons in an attempt to control costs. It is an excellent piece that is truly a balanced view of the situation.
There is, however, one thing wrong with the article – it is concerned with a symptom, not the cause of the problem.
As Kirkham notes, “In exchange, the company (which is looking to run a prison) is asking for a 20-year management contract, plus an assurance that the prison would remain at least 90 percent full.” (Emphasis mine.)
Just how do states plan to do that? Easy, by putting the majority of people in prison for non-violet crimes.
According to a Center for Economic and Policy Research 2010 report, more the 60 percent of those in prison are there on non-violent offenses. Another study from the Vera Institute estimates that Texas spends about $3.3 billion per year for adult corrections and prisons. That is $125 per person in Texas.
In Austin, I would move to strike down laws against non-violent offenses. If this eliminates 50 percent of the prison budget we could save $1.6 billion per year. Of course, this does not count the reduced burden on law enforcement at both the state and local level.
We are out of money! We need to rethink who really should and should not be incarcerated. It is time to wake up!