Daniel Sheehan


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Can a free society survive under commercialized imprisonment?

I'm disturbed with the idea that prisons are being sold to corporate entities. When the state no longer administers the imprisonment of the convicted does this de-legitimize the purpose of justice under the state's laws? If we, as the custodians of our government, sell our convicted brothers and sisters to a corporate prison aren't we selling them into a form of slavery to that corporation? We have an obligation to the people that we take into our custody that they are not exploited for commercial profit and serve their sentence at our hand. The purpose of corporations is solely to make profit, and the only way for a corporation to continue making profit is to increase it's customer base, which in this case is to create more opportunity to receive more inmates. This means that if we are sponsoring these corporations we must create more laws that incarcerate more people. This is antithetical to what we call a free society because we would have to feed our friends and families (and of course enemies) to this corporation. We would be creating an imprisonment society to satisfy corporate profit.

  • Mar 23 2012: So, having read this, my response is no.. I don't know much about this issue (actually I didn't really know this was going on), but I can't believe that we would do this esp. ith how sly and money hungry these politicans and corporate leaders are.

    However, if the choice is either to let the inmates go because we cannot afford to keep them incarcerated, or allow these corporations to handle the expenses then I supposes its to the lesser of two evils.. (then again I htink we may be a bit too harsh with the punishments and alot of these ppl don't need to be in the prison system).

    It's not as bad as Putting them in the hands of a private individual / corporation.... could be worst :/
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      Mar 23 2012: Thank you Camille.
      My objective is to bring this issue to the attention of this community and to those that didn't know this was going on.
      This is about making people commodities to be sold for profit. These for profit prisons are going out of their way to entice politicians to invest in their companies just because they can affect the laws that will incarcerate people and because they can vote to sell our public prisons to their corporations. This is an abhorrent conflict of interest and any politician, judge, or public policy maker should be exposed and driven out of office.

      The choice isn't about releasing inmates that we can't afford to keep incarcerated, it is about rolling back the laws that created the over crowding of the prisons because they were created to feed these private prisons and to line their investors pockets with money. We are not getting better or cheaper services from these companies, the proof is that they are making profit. Not the lesser of the two but an increase of the evil.

      These private prisons pick and choose which inmates they house. They get paid on a scale based on the overall cost of housing all inmates in the system. They choose the least costly inmates and pocket the rest as profit, and therefore increase the cost of housing the inmates that remain in the public prisons. In both cases we pay a higher cost for housing and care for these inmates.
      This can not be sustainable.
      • Mar 24 2012: There shouldn't be any profits in this.. These corperations shouldn't be able to make money on this since we are paying taxes to keep the convicted in these prisons, and we pay for their medical, hoursing etc.; the last thing we need to be doing is paying more to give them a profit from this....
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          Mar 25 2012: Well, the question here is: Who is making money off of "crime"?

          The age old adage, "Crime doesn't pay." no longer applies. Private prisons make profit from the "crimes" of others. Convicted criminals aren't allowed to make profit from their crimes in any manner. Why do we allow anyone, other than the offended, to make money (be recompensed for) from the crime.

          We now have laws that allow law enforcement agencies to seize assets of suspected criminals (that is people or companies accused, not convicted, of crimes), but this is taking our money that we pay in taxes as private profits.

          Something is going wrong here. What are we doing to ourselves?
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    Mar 12 2012: This is a cogent topic in such a time of challenge and crisis.
    Incarceration creates a social division that prevents the normal channels of audit. Out of sight/out of mind.
    While not directly involved I have a few friends involved in state incarceration services.
    As you say, incarceration is being privatised in order to yield cost savings.
    My friends describe the jails as "human warehousing".
    So if you use that analogy, then you can telll a little by simply analysing the dynamics of the service.
    Who is the customer?
    The customer is currently the state.
    It is the state who defines the product by virtue of classifying some "criminal" and some not by way of laws and regulations. You could classify the inmates as the "product" which is then stored in the warehouse by way of the warehousing service.
    Opportunity for abuse arisies if anyone operating as a state representative has financial interest in the incarceration industry. Therefore one must ask for full disclosure to prevent personal interest (conflict of interest) driving incarceration rates.
    On top of that there must be some measure of quality of service. This might be obtained by finding the mission statement and ethos of the corporation providing the service.
    If the company sees the service as sheer livestock warehousing, then human rights of prisoners would be secondary to costs.
    And who would care anyway - hey these are dirty criminal scum who are suffering the justified vengance of society .. aren't they?
    But wait - these human warehousing experts then get asked to administer refugee camps .. are these refugees also "dirty criminal scum?"
    I have argued and lobbied long that detainees of all kinds require psychiatric assistance as priority #1. I have had some impact on the provision of basic attention for refugees, but there is no indication that any such attempt is being made for those who society and culture have turned their backs on. This is, to my way of thinking, is counter to the interest of society.
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      Mar 13 2012: Thank you Mitch.
      The personal side of incarceration is devastating, as the rule. You're not placed there according to your productive capacity but for your disruptive/destructive actions. Theoretically incarceration is a punishment for those actions, which in the free society is delivered at the hands of your peers (the citizens of the state) regardless of your economic station.
      The commercial prisons are driven by economics, their concern is the resourses they expend over value of their commodities, you have more value to them if you can bring in more resources or expend less. If you can deliver resourses to the corporation you will receive preferential treatment, anything from better living/working conditions to an immunity from them. It wouldn't be a stretch to claim that you could buy your way out of commercial prisons.

      Mission statements are great if corporations can adhere to them but their ethos will always be subject to the fluctuation of the $. Mission and ethos are artificial luxuries to the corporation laid over their structure to simulate a human-like facade for it (Yes, under our current laws judicially corporations are people. Different argument.). Mission and ethos are imposed by individuals and are always viewed by the corporation as a deficit that has to be balanced against profits. It is a rare corporation that will suffer economically from it's ethos, and this only through strict top-down control.

      My argument is not that the state can deliver better conditions or that it can do so more economically, but that it is the obligation of the state to run the prisons because we are the ones that impose these restrictions and accept it as a deficit in our free society.
      Commercialized imprisonment drives a market for laws through the state to support private profit. It does not surprise me to find state representatives with financial interest in commercial prisons. This is clear conflict of interest because they steer state resourses to it.
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        Mar 14 2012: Daniel, you hit the issue right on the head there.
        It gives me hope that there are a select few who understand.

        From your statements, it is obvious to me that you have been through "the valley of shadow".
        It is a terrible indictment of our existence that one has to travel the path less trodden - and survive it, in order to bring back value to the world - only to find that the world will only hear your wisdom after they have trodden the paths of wisdon (and survived).

        Thankfuly, there are enough who have walked the walk, and there are enough of the wise who can respect another who has walked another walk. Between us, we shape the future .. but we must be patient.

        The world of humans is infested with wrong turns. It all gets to look like Lady Macbeth .. the passion play .. plays-out. .. so much sadness.
        And yet - every rainbow has blue as well as yellow ..

        The absolute best we can do is to guesture at the sky and say - wow! A rainbow!! The wise will stop to enjoy . .some will become captured by the beauty of it .. then we look around at those still digging holes and pretending they didn't hear .. and we know how many humans there are on this earth.
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        Mar 14 2012: Look - I'm going to go on at length about this .. because everyone still seem to be sitting at the edge of the pool and never jumping in.
        I am well and truly in the pool - and .. as they say "the water's fine!!!"
        Jumping in the pool:
        While I was in the business of entertainment agency, I had teh opportunity to work with another agent who was the major-at-arms of this nations wing of the hell's angels.
        This man's son was seriously beaten in one of the ghetos over a minor traffic incident - so he mobilized his judiciary and created a drug-war that killed 160 of the guys who belonged to the drug-gang that assaulted his son. These Vietnamese guys were in the heroin trade, the angels were controlling amphetamines (on behalf of the state).
        While I was in the business of hiring computer programmers, I found that my best people were Vietnamese refugees who had taken the dangerous and arduous journey from war to safety.
        One of my colleagues was a PHD in psychology with a major in psychopathy - so I asked her - "what is this dichotemy? How is it that the Hells' Angels have to discipline Vietnamaese refugees, while I find the most beutiful people I ever met coming off the same boats?
        She said: "In all my research .. and I interviewed all teh incarcerated psychopaths in the USA for my thesis .. there is no middle-ground with trauma: the traumatised person either becomes hopelessly disfunctional, or becomes hyper-functional - the kids you are employing are the hyper-functional, the people killed in your friend's drug war were the dysfunctional." She went on to say that timely healing was the difference. THis woman was the first of the psychologsts lionised in "the silence of the lambs" .. so I took notice.

        I will continue my findings in the next 1000-charcer TED box...
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        Mar 14 2012: OK .. next chapter:
        My second wife was an enlightened educator - she lived to educate. Her mother was a dissposessed hier of the Rolls Royce fortune, her grandmother crafted the flying Caduceus .. her father was a poacher (and druid) turned ground-keeper on her mother's estate - upon their marriage, she was dissinherrited of the fortune for "marrying a commoner". However, blood being thicker than water, she retained her shareds in Barklays bank in the corporation of London.
        In my wife's passion of education in the industrially polluted ghettos of Sydney, she observed a young girl displaying the signs of sexual abuse - the girl was 9 years old on the books. But research revealed that her family had been smuggled out of El Salvadore by the Catholic Church.
        This girl's mother was a celibrity for the Amnesty NGO organisation, and they carted her around on world tours to show the world how much torture a human can experience and still survive in order to elicit charity donations for the cause. I wil not relate to you here what was done to this woman by the US backed government, the communist-backed rebels and the random street-gangs. SUrfice to say that the church had exported a nexus of harm way beyond the scope of normal healing..
        We took this young girl into refuge to stop her father sexually abusing her, and all the ommunity services people were saying "NO- DOn't do it!!!!" They knew. ANd nobody knows.
        We harboured this girl - she was booked as 9 years old, but she was 14 - because her mother was so traumatized, she didn't know which daughter survived and cam eout. But the father was so shattered .. he became dysfunctional.
        We got urgent psychiatric evaluation, and the psychiatrist boutlined the urgent course of therapy to save the girl .. but .. despite our desparate insistence, the state could not find funding for that therapy. THis girl became so destructive that we, eventually had to pass her into the state "juvenile welfare": system ..
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        Mar 14 2012: We are convinced that this girl remains in the prostitution system or is now dead from drugs. .. or disease.
        And this is why I lobby for those with such courage as to face the high-seas on ricketty little boats - just so long as very skilled healers come to meet them.
        I have had a modest result. Just one guy.
        But i am not just one guy - thankfully . I see I am not alone.
        If I were, in fact, alone .. I could not draw one more breath .. it would be pointless.

        I thank you for demonstrating to me, that I have more breaths to take in this world.
        Let me reciprocate - keep going - we are not alone.
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    Mar 11 2012: in a perfectly free society, there are commercial prisons only. it is easy to see: the government is the sector of the society that is not free. the government is the only entity that can legally imprison, force, tax or sometimes even kill. every function that we believe is necessary to be enforced, we delegate to the government. therefore a perfectly free society does not have a government. hence, if there are prisons, they have to be private.

    note however that it is NOT commercial if the state delegates a task to a company that is legally a private entity. being commercial means that you compete for clients on the free market. if the state can select service providers, the decision is still made by the state, and the powers are delegated by them. such a practice is highly questionable, unless we treat such companies as part of the state. but in that case, what is the benefit?

    there is that argument that a company exists solely for making profit. however, it also can be said that the state exists solely to convince people to vote for them for another term. it does not seem any better for me.
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      Mar 11 2012: Thank you Krisztián.
      In the perfectly free society we'd each have the authority, ability, and sensibility to dispense justice under the laws that we've collectively agreed upon, the governing entities being our own and only self-restrictions. We'd still have the responsibility to see that the people that we take into custody for breaking our laws aren't exploited, particularly for commercial means (profit).
      The state, our governing entity, would have to be the guaranteer of conduct under our agreement both for the imprisoned and towards them. This means that the state assumes the responsibility as our restricting agent to make sure that those we imprison are kept from further harming us and harm to them under our restrictions/laws. To delegate this responsibility to a private entity would tend to violate this guarantee because the state no longer has perfect oversight of the conditions that the imprisoned are held under.

      Under privately held prisons each commodity (prisoner) has an assigned value that fluctuates in the free market. To maintain these commodities resources have to be expended and these resources are prioritizes by the market. It is impossible for a privately held prison to maintain a consistent quality of service in order to profit in the marketplace. Prisons have to be held by the state.
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      Mar 14 2012: @Krisztian,
      What is the benefit?
      That is the key question.
      I suppose the driving benefit must be to prevent a destructive individual from damaging the value in a community.
      Incarceration is a poor solution - the community continues to be damaged through the cost of incarceration.
      That cost is not just the resources required to maintain and staff the prison and feed the prisoner, it also vields a cost through the attitudes the jailers propogate back into the community.
      When seen in that light, hanging makes a far better business case.
      But, there IS a better way that does not seem to have been presented properly:
      That is to recognise that destructive behaviour has a cause:
      It indicates that there is a dysfunctions somewhere.
      That dysfunction may be in the individual's brain function (by hereditry, injury, trauma, diet)
      It could be in the circumstance(competition for scarce resources - survival threat etc)
      It could be in the community itself(racism, persecution, religion etc)
      It could be in the laws themselves.

      In dealing with a destructive individual, the only benefit for a community is to identify the dysfunction and work to correcting the dysfunction where it lies. The prisoner then becomes a patient, with confinement only as part of that process - and as a last resort.
      THe long-term carceration of the patient would indicate a failure in the community, and become a focus for instensified research.
      Each success then becomes a success - an on-going benefit to that individual and the community.
      And the attitudes propagated back into the community are far more healthy.
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        Mar 14 2012: please note that i didn't say a free society would have prisons. i just said if it did, they would be private.
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          Mar 15 2012: If we take the "perfectly free society" as a model of free society where we are all free to act as we see fit and laws are drawn to protect us only against direct personal offence, then the individual would have the obligation to dispense both justice and punishment. This means that the individual is also be obliged to provide detention facilities should that need occur, the private prison.

          If this is what I understand you mean than yes private prisons are the natural outgrowth of this perfectly free society. But this perfect free society only exists conceptually in it’s own Petri dish immune to influences outside it’s own.
          We have to accept the imperfect free society as a work in process with restrictive governance and goals always beyond our reach.

          My concern is for the development of the, so called, free society we have rather than the perfected state.
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          Mar 15 2012: Crime is a social perception.

          It has nothing functional to do with the private individual beyond imediate retaliation.

          There is no private and state in that light.

          ANd I agree with Daniel that the word "society" implies structure.

          There is no freedom without structure.

          If there was no structure then "freedom of action" has nothing against which to guage it's progress.
          If there was total structure then there would be no where to progress.

          Society must, therefore, find the minimum structure required for society - based on teh absolute nature of the individual.

          All this use of the word "freedom" seems to point towards some vague assumption.
          It is structure that defines the word.

          Let us talk, instead, about structure and potential for action within it.
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    Mar 11 2012: lets ask the people doing the time thats the best way to get your answer. what do you say when you don't have your freedom of choice?
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      Mar 11 2012: Thank you Solidus.
      I'd like to hear from those within the system, on either side of the bars.
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    Mar 9 2012: I disagree with you regarding one point, as there is a different way of corporations to make profit: by making better use of / monetizing their existing customer base; quality instead of quantity. So imagine the government did not have to pay for our convicted brothers and sisters and longer, but companies did, which would then -- like regular employers -- make use of the skills and knowledge of their 'customers', e.g. by installing working environments for them (and I don't mean slavery, but regular employment opportunities). This could even count as regular professional experience and as a rehabilitation method for the inmates. I don't think we would be steering towards this imprisonment society you mentioned, as the companies would also be interested in communicating a positive image of themselves, as opposed to threatening legislation into producing more customers for their prisons.
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      Mar 10 2012: Thank you Simone.
      I don't think that we'd come out any better if other companies were funding the prison corporations in exchange for trained workers. While I agree that offering the opportunity to develop a different skill set while doing time would count towards ones rehabilitation, the prison corporation would still depend on turn over (newer inmates) in order to continue.
      This also would expand corporate interest in incarceration beyond just the prison corporations because we would have more businesses expectant/dependent on skills training coming through the prison systems that they fund, presumably at some discount for them.
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      Mar 14 2012: Simone,
      Any coersion of a human's labour is slavery by definition.
      A human's labour belongs to that human and is exerted on behalf of that human's interest.
      This is the absolute law of nature.
      IF coersion were to be applied, I'd suggest that, by natural law, the only legitimate course would be to coerce the human to labour in the identification and correction of the dysfunction that lead the human into destructive behaviour.
      SO, for instance, the prisoner would be obliged to learn, research and practice neuroscience, psychology, sociology, law, custom, religion or whatever it was that resulted in in his/her incarceration - i.e. directly in the person's interest.
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    Apr 1 2012: Another concern I have with private prisons is that it has the potential to develop a criminals marketplace.

    Consider this scenario: A company that we'll call HackIT Corp does computer data management. A private prison that we'll call MyPrison Services manages a local prison. And Bob Binary is an inmate at MyPrison's prison.
    HackIT is looking for a "high skilled digital data analyst" (read this as, computer hacker).
    MyPrisons offers customized rehabilitation services that can include several levels of computer training along with job placement services.
    For a special fee MyPrison will provide the specialized training to Bob that HackIT requests and upon Bob's release from prison he goes to work as a hacker for HackIT.
    All perfectly legal, but I think this is very questionable.

    This is one of the mildest questionable scenarios that I can come up with.
    Think about security companies that need mercs to fill their ranks, they'd be looking for inmates with aggressive (more violent) skills. Maybe these "successfully rehabilitated" aggressive former inmates are hired as prison personnel.

    If I wanted to build a private army I'd run a private prison and pick from the more violent and malleable inmates. All the inmates and funding coming from the government, private corporations, and tax payers money. A no-lose situation.

    This is so wrong, and not very far fetched.