[Eric Metaxas] On my last two broadcasts, I talked about the abuses and other violations of human dignity that are all too common in American prisons and jails. While many factors contribute to these abuses, one stands head and shoulders above the rest: America incarcerates far too many people.
This won’t come as a surprise to long-time BreakPoint listeners: Chuck repeatedly made this point over the years. But what might surprise you is the role that money plays in our over-reliance on incarceration.
Plainly stated, there’s money to be made in operating prisons and supplying them with everything from food to phone service.
And when there’s money to be made, politics will follow. And politicians make the laws about whom to lock up and for how long. ...
... The biggest beneficiaries of this arrangement are local sheriff departments, which operate their facilities as businesses with the profits paying for local law enforcement.
The state pays them $24.39 a day, well below the national average, for each state prisoner they incarcerate. As a result, many “inmates subsist in bare-bones conditions with few programs to give them a better shot at becoming productive citizens,” since the cost of doing better would cut into the sheriff departments’ profits.
Naturally, those who benefit from the system make sure that Louisiana has some of the harshest sentencing practices in the world: for instance, “a two-time car burglar can get 24 years without parole.”...
Markets don't solve everything. The steep invesment in a "supply" of prison cells means for-profit firms are going to seek a sufficient "demand" for those cells, i.e., putting pressure on the policitcal system to ensure a steady flow convicts. The justice system becomes perverted. If there are to be for-profit firms, then the market incentives need to be structured to reward just outcomes. I'm not sure what that market would look like.