Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Private Prison Problems (and the Scholars Who Warned Us)

Frank Pasquale

Readers may be interested in this fascinating report on the fusion of public and private actors in certain state prison systems:
Florida leads the nation in placing state prisons in the hands of private, profit-making companies. In recent years, the state has privatized the entirety of its $183 million juvenile commitment system — the nation’s third-largest, trailing only California and Texas. Florida not only relies on private contractors to self-report escapes and incidents of violence and abuse, but the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice routinely awards contracts to private prison operators without scrutinizing their records, a Huffington Post investigation has found.
“We thought DJJ was going to be our biggest ally,” said Gordon Weekes, the chief juvenile public defender in Broward County, who has for years complained to the state about conditions inside two YSI prisons there. “They turned out to be the ally of the corporations, and the ally of the system.”
Legal scholars have warned about the possible problems with privatization for years now. As Jon Michaels observed, "A private prison company that finds it cheaper and more effective to employ excessive force (and can get away with it) may report to a state corrections agency happy to look the other way." Adam Liptak may condemn such scholars for not exhibiting influence on the policies they criticize, or not getting cited by judges. But he should scarcely be surprised to see legal scholars failing to gain attention for their work when they're trashed as a class by the New York Times.

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