Private sector-run prisons is a stupid, lazy idea

Marlen V. Ronquillo

Marlen V. Ronquillo

Do you still remember Karl Marx’s dream of a classless, stateless society, in which all ranks and hierarchies, along with the organized state apparatuses and institutions, would – at an epoch designated by historical determinism — wither and die? If you grew up in the 60s and the 70s, chances are you were once swept up by the sheer grandness of that ideal. As one who descended from a long line of sharecroppers, this is the truth — I did. Who does not want a society that makes your status in society at par with that of your landlords?

In my particular case, who would not aspire for a status that is at par with our Basque landlords?

For those who urge that prisons be run by the private sector for efficiency etc., just remember one thing. Prisons have been built on the same ideals of Marxist historical determinism. That, at some point in time, they will all disappear. At the very least, the brutal prisons will make an exit like Alcatraz. That at some point, the need for prisons or the need to lock up people behind bars would be deemed a superfluous, unnecessary idea.

The state precisely runs the prisons to make sure that – at some stage of maturity and personal responsibility – prisons will no longer be required by a truly reformed society. The fact that prisons are raring to let go of the reformed ones is not founded on the idea of cost-saving measures, but rather on the fact that the released prisoners have learned enough lessons for their return into the mainstream. Prisons, based on their ideals and practical applications, are halfway houses.

What is another name for prisons? Correctionals. A place where the guilty can have their own space for correction and reformation. And personal redemption after having served their jail terms.

The Age of Duterte has placed prisons on the spotlight because of many interlocking developments. The government’s war on drugs has pushed drug users and drug pushers alike to surrender in masse, overwhelming the already-overcrowded prisons. The surge in the prison population, the sub-human conditions under which most inmates live, was just a minor story, though the media tended to give it due focus. The big prison story is the alleged involvement of a newly-elected senator in a flourishing drug trade at the Bilibid. Senator de Lima, an arch-enemy of Mr. Duterte for some time, and a target of the president’s ire, was accused to involvement in the Bilibid drug trade, which reportedly bankrolled her May senatorial campaign.

The problem was this. The determined efforts to find evidence to link Ms. De Lima to the alleged drug trade, evidence that would lead to the jailing of the senator, failed. “Lock her up” was just as intense as the Trump supporters’ call for the jailing of Hillary Clinton. So the end result was this. Ms. De Lima will be locked up in her critics’ imaginary prison.

So Congress, having failed to lay the groundwork for the jailing of Ms. De Lima, will have to go back to the “in aid of legislation” thing. But many doubt the need to put “ prison reforms” into legislation. Because what are needed are already in place, covered every step of the way by the DOJ/NBP rules. That no new thing and fresh concepts can be written into legislation may prod the legislators to propose what has been untried in our country – private sector built and run prisons.

Private prisons will only be built by corporate interests (only giant corporations can handle a responsibility that big) under one scheme – via the PPP route. The private sector will not build prisons without government support and guarantee. The motivation, we all know this, is private profit.

To profit, investments have to operate for the long term and there should be a viable market. Operating prisons and operating them viably require a steady stream of new criminals flowing into the prison gates. This is anathema to the grand ideals of every democratic country’s judicial system – which is keeping criminality at low, negligible rates for the common good. Then, we move on to the highest dream – a society that barely needs prisons.

Prisons cannot be operated by entities that need a more-than-viable ROI. And that needs a steady stream of “ clients” to survive. And the PPP provenance makes matters worse. Should the private sector-run prisons go bankrupt, the state, the taxpayers rather, will have to shoulder the burden of the bankruptcy.

The US Department of Justice has decided to phase-out federal private prisons and private detention facilities for suspected violators of immigration laws. Senator Bernie Sanders and many political progressives said that was a laudable step but still falls short on what is needed to be done.

“We have to end the private prison racket in America as quickly as possible,” Sanders said. Indeed, political progressives have a name for private prisons – a racket.

Private, for-profit prisons are a racket. They are anti-people. The idea of building them is stupid and lazy.


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  1. I agree, no to prison privatization. The 13th documentary now shown in Netflix shows the corporate greed of the US.
    After the military congressional industrial complex, the greedy capitalists have created the prison congressional industrial complex. Once again, the hapless victims are mostly colored people; the blacks and latinos.
    Our idiots in congress should be whacked from behind.

  2. Sir Marlen the present NBP is already the biggest raket much much bigger than Napoles. I cannot imagine why no proof against Leila. Is the undisputed presence of near billion Drug trade inside NBP not proof?

  3. Why can’t the BUCOR just decongest the jails, there are so many reformed and deserving prisoners who should be commuted or paroled ASAP, but instead it’s the rich and professional syndicate criminals who are being processed for early release for a price to the highest bidder, it will just be the same corruption if the system is privatized.

    A monthly census of all the inmates who are overstaying meaning they have served their minimum to medium sentence, with good conduct can be freed already. They should peacefully assemble in protest formation weekly to spell out the word LAYA. To keep them locked up when they have paid their dept to society is like illegal detention and violation of human rights.

    The new administration must verify if rumors that of the thousands of inmates only 3 dozen inmates were released at the minimum Munitinglupa detention during PNOY. Its been reported that Prison administrators wants to maintain a huge population the more skim daily food allotment, this corruption must stop. Free those who should be freed.