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Posted on Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 10:03 a.m.

Passing House Bill will worsen already pressing civil rights issue

By Guest Column

On Saturday, June 30, 2010, People of Diversity United for Equality (PODUE), coordinated by Rod Casey held a community forum titled, “Private Prisons Will Enslave our Children for Profit: A Community Forum,” at Brown Chapel AME Church in Ypsilanti. The forum was moderated by State Rep. David Rutledge and the panelists included (American Civil Liberties Union Racial Justice Program attorney) Mark Fancher, Oscar Thomas, (an) educator, Dr. Ronald Woods and Thornton Perkins, both professors, and Judge Tim Connors. The focus of the forum was to discuss the impact of House Bill 5174, a proposal asking the State of Michigan legislators to make it a law to allow private corporations such as the Corrections Corporations of America, or CCA, and GEO (formerly known as Wackenhut Corrections) to take over our public prison system. If HB 5174 passes, it will have a profound effect on the African American community as well as the broader community of Michigan.

In 2012, CCA sent a letter to “prison officials in 48 states offering to buy prisons from these states in exchange for a 20-year management contract and a guaranteed occupancy rate of 90%.” In a 1990 report, Prudential Securities was bullish on CCA but noted, “it takes time to bring inmate population levels up to where they cover costs. Low occupancy is a drag on profits…company earnings would be strong if CCA succeeded in ramping up population levels in these new facilities at an acceptable rate.” Community organizations have criticized the proposals, “arguing that the contractual obligations of states to fill prisons to 90% occupancy are poor public policy that could force communities into creating criminals and that these contractual clauses end up costing taxpayers more than the state run prison would.” How will these private prisons reach their occupancy levels?

According to The Injustice Line, Blacks are incarcerated (at) over eight times the rate (of) Whites. In Michigan, there are approximately 44,000 inmates, 58 percent of whom are African American. Blacks only account for 13 percent of the states population. Penal demographers project the number of prison beds needed at any point in time by the number of students in fourth grades who are struggling to succeed in school. It is no secret that young African American males are disproportionately subjected to disciplinary action in school at all grade levels and many of them struggle academically. Several years ago, the ACLU published a report titled, “The School-to-Prison Pipeline” which documents the path of young African American males to our prison system. If private prisons become a reality in Michigan, a new report may be titled, “The Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline.” Given current developments within the justice system, it only stands to reason that these private prisons will become bloated with African Americans.

Many of our public officials have taken a defiant stand in support of mass incarceration as a means of addressing crime, yet, mass incarceration have not proven to be a solution to crime or to safer communities. Also, there are no incentives for employees of the justice system to advocate for crime reduction because their livelihood is intricately tied to the prison system. Therefore, it only stands to reason that an entity driven by profit motives have absolutely no incentive to keep people out of prisons.

A common message conveyed by each of the presenters likened the current incarceration of African Americans to slavery. In many states, including Michigan convicted felons cannot vote, have difficulty finding employment and in many cases without strong family or community support are destined to return to prison. The mass incarceration of African Americans is one of the most pressing civil rights issues of our day and private prisons will only exacerbate this problem. It is incumbent upon the African American community to “own” this problem and for the broader community to voice opposition to HB 5174. If you are opposed to private prisons, call your State Representative and/or congressmen to let them know that HB 5174 is bad public policy.

Lefiest H. Galimore is the President of The Village Initiative and Rod Casey is a Member of PODUE.



Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 10:08 p.m.

This is an important story and where privatization of such facilities teenagers who were simply rebelling against their parents without harm spent long stints in privatized facilities. It was alleged that a judge was given incentives to assign a teenager to a facility meant for teens with criminal records. Privatization is wrong. Facilities should be operated and supervised by employees of our legal system. There should be no incentive for inappropriate institutionalization.


Sun, Aug 5, 2012 : 12:31 p.m.

Michigan dept of corrections and the the union serving it MCO are the two most corrupt organizations in Michigan.

hoi polloi

Fri, Aug 3, 2012 : 1:22 p.m.

I worked for one of these 'for profit' juvenile detention centers in Idaho. They're everywhere out west where Republicans dominate the political landscape. The corporation illegally siphoned Title I funds away from the on-site school budget to line their profits by charging for health benefits the employees never received. These facilities are designed to suck money out of taxpayers' pockets and turn the state into a prison mill industry. I saw plenty of kids go through this place that didn't belong there, but the company gets to charge the state lots of money every night the kids slept in one of their beds. We don't want this happening in Michigan.


Fri, Aug 3, 2012 : 5:12 a.m.

I say NO, to prison for profit. This can and will be abused by the stock holders, who could be judges and the like. we need to keep it as is, and lessen the the stupid new laws that keep popping up. No, no, no, no,no, too easy to abuse.


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 6:59 p.m.

Unusal Suspect... The Department of Corrections is not part of law enforcement. The Department of Corrections in any state and in fact the Bureau of Prisons( Us Govt.) is considered and is very much a part of the law enforcement community. These men and women face more serious crime per shift than do a majority of police agencies nation wide. Their is no neighborhood in america more dangerous than theirs. Don't believe it, then try doing their job for 1 year. Nobody runs a prison system better than the U.S. Government / State Corrections systems. Privitization is not good in this business.

Unusual Suspect

Fri, Aug 3, 2012 : 1:05 a.m.

Did I say it isn't dangerous? Please provide the quote to jog my memory. The point is that law enforcement and corrections are under two separate departments in the state government.

Top Cat

Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 5:39 p.m.

And no mention of the "civil rights" of the victims of these criminals, both behind bars and still out on the street.

Milton Shift

Fri, Aug 3, 2012 : 2:14 a.m.

Yeah - because the issues related to private prisons don't concern victims.

Unusual Suspect

Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 3:42 p.m.

Everybody just relax. The 90% rate is accomplished by shifting prisoners around, and by closing or idling prisons if they become underutilized, which results in greater occupancy in other prisons. The corporations don't choose who comes to their prisons, the courts do. With the phrase, "The mass incarceration of African-Americans," it sounds like the authors are implying there's some organized effort to go out and find them and imprison them. "It is no secret that young African American males are disproportionately subjected to disciplinary action in school at all grade levels and many of them struggle academically." Why is that? Ask any teacher you know, they'll tell you. The greater disciplinary action is due to the greater instances of behavioral problems, and the academic struggle is due to a lack of parental involvement and a lack of parents. Regardless of the fact that authors are implying it, there's no conspiracy to discipline them at a higher rate than other kids or to give them lower grades than other kids. "It is incumbent upon the African American community to 'own' this problem." On this point I agree with the authors, but I'm pretty sure it means something different to me when I read it than it does when they wrote it.

Unusual Suspect

Fri, Aug 3, 2012 : 1:02 a.m.

"no private citizen should ever be incarcerated nor punished by another private citizen" Any citizen who doesn't want to be "incarcerated or punished by another private citizen" can simply decide to not commit a crime. Problem solved.


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 9:20 p.m.

"But this is only something speculated upon by the authors of this opinion piece. It's not real." Yea, it is speculation; because unless we actually adopt private prisons, it can't be proven scientifically. But that doesn't mean that my concerns can't be real/warranted, and it doesn't make you right. If everyone understood the actual impact of this policy in practice, we wouldn't be having this argument. Let me break it down for you; my argument is no private citizen should ever be incarcerated nor punished by another private citizen. Private corporations are *not* servants of the State, and only the State should be given this authority.


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 7:22 p.m.

You can't discounted privatization because somebody might not take there job seriously. To be honest the private firm has a lot more to lose than a government agency with deep pockets. The firm is going to protect themselves from law suits by going above and beyond not to be sued. If a suit comes against the private firm it could go under. If a suit goes against the government they reach deep and pull out money and MAYBE the guard would be let go.

Unusual Suspect

Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 6:42 p.m.

"You set a VERY dangerous precedent by allowing privatized corporations to act as law enforcement" The Department of Corrections is not part of law enforcement.

Unusual Suspect

Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 6:38 p.m.

"fiscal machine doesn't trump the concerns for the civil liberties of incarcerated individuals" This is called the "fallacy of the false alternative." You are speaking as though it's a given fact that privatizing prison management will lead to civil rights problems. But this is only something speculated upon by the authors of this opinion piece. It's not real.


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 5:40 p.m.

First off, speaking in extremes (i.e. "something is always better") is an indicator for extreme policies. And extreme policies are rarely the optimal ones. (See, the best choice.) Secondly, even if you were right that a private industry could do it more efficiently, the need to turn the prison system into a lean, mean, fiscal machine doesn't trump the concerns for the civil liberties of incarcerated individuals. They might be in prison, but they are still citizens, and they are entitled to particular standards of ethical treatment. Let's say you're an inmate in one of the state's prisons, for whatever offense you may have committed; for fun, let's call it negligent manslaughter by virtue of car accident. Who would you rather trust; an officer of the state who is oath-sworn to uphold the law, or a private employee in riot gear who just happens to work there? You set a VERY dangerous precedent by allowing privatized corporations to act as law enforcement; something that exists nowhere in our country. You open the doors to private police forces and militias who have no interest in upholding the Constitution itself, but rather only in their paychecks and quarterly profit margin.


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 5:09 p.m.

Dave I agree we should privatize everything. If history has taught us anything its that government owned agency's are a bloated waste of money. That stems from not having anybody actually concerned about making any profit. As an example, if are a supervisor of a road crew and you have too many people would you let one go. I wouldn't. I would just make it easier on everyone there. If nobody is pressing you to be accountable to the profits why would you make things more difficult.


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 4:07 p.m.

I can understand where you're going with arguing that a required occupancy rate is in good spirit when applied to efficiency. I think the more critical concern is corporations' motivation is to make money by doing more business more cheaply; in this case, having more prisons open to as high capacity as possible. This pits their motivations completely against what the rest of us want; more people in prison. You can reasonably expect said private corporations to seek sponsorship of bills and congressmen to represent their corporate interests. Those laws would likely be harsher, and aimed at placing more people in prison, hence netting them larger contracts. It's truly a destructive formula. If I break the law of the state, and am imprisoned as punishment, I think there is a reasonable expectation that my punishment be carried out by the institution that convicted me of my crimes, not effectively sell me off to be locked in another private citizen's cage. Like it was said before; there are some things where privatization doesn't belong. Why not contract out our police & fire services while we're at it?

Fred Altenbernt

Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 3:35 p.m.

I agree, prisons for profit. Sometimes it would be better to let government run some things, instead of privatizaton. Have yet to see a private business not have higher costs after signing a government contract. We (the state) would be on the hook for 20 years and have penalties if the prison population went below 90%. Michigan has been closing prisons for some time now, what happens if the population keeps going down? What would happen to the physical property if they decideded to walk after twenty years? Instead keep the present system, redo the contracts of the employees to keep the costs of pensions and such down.This requires some thinking and cooperation between parties.


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 3:26 p.m.

One question to Why is the potential sale of the prison system to private contractor revealed in a Guest Column and not an actual new story? This is not newsworthy?


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 3:14 p.m.

Talk about one more nail in a free societies coffin. Selling our prison system to the highest bidder. Although in this case its more like a no-bid contract. I'm not saying prisons are not needed, but it must not be for PROFIT. Profit in this case, like health care, is simply waste. I guess the next bill will be to privatize police as well. We already have done this in our military to a degree with likes of Blackwater. Also, what would bar a Corporation from "outsourcing" the physical prison location to an out-of-country location. Surely there are cheaper places for incarceration? Let see. Need more revenue, arrest more citizens, build more prison, arrest more citizens, build more prisons. Rinse-Wash-Repeat.

tom swift jr.

Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 2:59 p.m.

"In 2012, CCA sent a letter to "prison officials in 48 states offering to buy prisons from these states in exchange for a 20-year management contract and a guaranteed occupancy rate of 90%." If that statement doesn't scare the bejeebers out of you, your brain is not engaged.

Detached Observer

Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 12:32 a.m.

Supporters of privatization are always crowing about the virtues of the free market, but in the free market there are no guaranties. This 90% guaranty is the opposite of that, as is most corporate welfare.


Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 4:55 p.m.

Tom Its not like the state of Michigan is going to round up prisoners to keep the prisons full. What they are say is if the population is less than 90% the private company will continue to bill at 90% rate. It called a minimun rate. The story was poorly worded.

Unusual Suspect

Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 3:49 p.m.



Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 3:19 p.m.

I thought the prisons were already full so what is the point of a 90% occupancy guarantee. Maybe they know something we don't, like an end to the end the war on drugs. Unless that happens I don't see anything changing regarding the existing prison "occupancy". Yah, like its a Best Western or Motel 6.