Everyone is concerned about the loss of jobs in the United States. Some blame the illegal immigrants, some blame outsourcing to cheap overseas labor and some blame automation. As for the illegal immigrants, we can stop beating up the Mexicans, the flow has slowed and many are going back home. We aren't going to have them to kick around anymore. Some of us might even have to begin cutting our own grass!
Automation is only a problem because with the destruction of he unions, workers have no way of claiming any of the fruits of increased productivity. Since 1980, average labor productivity in the US has increased 2% per year yet average worker pay has remained stagnant and the average number of hours worked has not decreased. The great promise that increased productivity would lead to increased wealth and leisure time seems to not have come true for the majority of workers. Increased productivity has led to increased profits instead of higher wages. Increased labor productivity has also led to increased levels of unemployment. Fewer workers are needed to produce the same amount of goods and services.
Outsourcing of jobs to cheap labor markets will continue to plague us as long as international corporations can control public policy by pouring seemingly inexhaustible sums of money into election campaigns. Only the overturn of the citizens united ruling by outraged Americans can impact that.
These aren't the only threats to job loss. They are not even the most insidious or undesirable. The secret job destroyer or wage depressor is the burgeoning privatization of prisons in the United States. The movement towards the privatization of corrections in the United States is a result of the convergence of two factors: the unprecedented growth of the US prison population since 1970 and the emergence out of the Reagan era of a political environment favorable to free-market solutions. Since the first private prison facility was opened in 1984, the industry has grown rapidly; gross revenues exceeded $1 billion in 1997.
"The birth of the contemporary American private prison industry may be traced to 1984, when the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service became the first federal agency to contract for private correctional services, with the Corrections Corporation of America. This initial movement toward the federal privatization of corrections was quickly followed by contracts for outsourcing developed by the US Marshals Service and the US Bureau of Prisons in 1986. The first county-level private prison contact was signed in 1984, between Hamilton County, Tennessee and the Corrections Corporation of America. Shortly thereafter, in 1985, the first state-level contract was signed, between the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the United States Corrections Corporation (NCPA 1995)." Today, nearly 150,000 prisoners are incarcerated in privately operated prisons and the number is growing rapidly. With the pressure put on legislators by the billions of dollars spent on lobbying for such things as longer sentences, more control by the prison management over paroles and pardons, it will continue to grow.
The study cited above can show no clear indication that the move has improved the prison system or eased the burden of the tax-payer. In fact, when the issue is studied in depth, the opposite appears to be true. Prisoners are being increasingly used in production of products that could be made by free workers. the Federal Prison Complex produces one hundred percent of all military helmets, ammunition belts, bullet proof vests, Identification tags, shirts, pants tents, bags and even canteens.
Not only are prisoners used to manufacture military equipment, prison workers provide ninety eight percent of the total market for equipment assembly services. They produce ninety three percent of paints and paintbrushes, ninety two percent of stove assemblies, forty six percent of body armor, thirty six percent of all home appliances, thirty percent of all microphones, headphones, and speakers, and they even manufacture twenty one percent of all office furniture.
The enormous profits being made and the potential for even more by the private prison operators provides an incentive to keep prison populations large and will pose a greater threat to jobs. Prisoners work for what they are told to work for, sometimes a low as $2 a day, they can't strike, the tax-payer pays for their health care and housing and finally, they have no sympathy by the public. Who cares about criminals.
Never-the-less, the study cited above brings us some serious questions about safety, justice, rehabilitation and legitimacy.
Opponents of private prisons argue that their incentive to cut costs to maximize profits presents a threat to the safety of prisoners, prison staff, and the public at large. They argue that private prisons tend to have fewer guards with less experience, which results in an increased rate of violent incidents behind bars. One study found violent incidents to be as much as 50% more frequent in private prisons (Greene, 2001). Also, private prisons may pose an increased risk of prisoner escape; a study cited by the Reason Public Policy Institute, no foe of privatization, found that government-run prisons have fewer escapes, less substance abuse and greater recreational and rehabilitation measures in place (Moore, Adrian 1998).
Further, some critics of privatization claim that the relative ease with which private industry can construct new prison cells leads to an over-reliance by government on incarceration at the expense of preventive social programs-- programs which, they argue, are more effective in preventing violence (Logan, 2002, Currie 1998). A study by Grassroots Leadership found that discretionary funds in the state of Mississippi were being routed from education to private prisons (www.grassrootsleadership.org).
Industry supporters, on the other hand, argue that through innovation in prison design and operation, private prisons are made safer than public facilities. Proponents argue that the profit motive creates incentives for safety, as violent disturbances in facilities leads to greater costs in the long run (Lissner et al, 1998) . A safe prison, they argue, is a profitable prison.
Those who oppose prison privatization make the case that the industry has the incentive and the wherewithal to extend the amount of time convicts will remain in prison, and that this presents a threat to justice. The industry, they say, can extend sentences in two ways. First, it has thrown its influence, through lobbying and campaign contributions, behind “tougher” laws such as "three strikes", mandatory minimum sentencing, and "truth in sentencing" that increase the duration of sentences. The conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been extremely active in advocating truth-in-sentencing and three strikes policies throughout the United States. This organization is heavily funded by the corrections industry, and indeed ALEC's Criminal Justice Task Force is co-chaired by Brad Wiggins, a former director of business development for the Corrections Corporation of America (Bender, 2000). The strength of these kinds of political influence, opponents fear, will only increase as the industry grows. As one observer notes, corrections corporations have "paid handsomely to play the public policy game, and will likely do so again"(O'Connell, 2002).
The second way opponents of privatization worry that private firms will distort the administration of justice is by exerting undue influence on parole hearings. Opponents argue that since prison firms are generally paid per prisoner per day, they have an incentive to extend inmate stays as long as possible, and so are liable to reduce prisoner’s chances for parole or good time off by exaggerating or fabricating disciplinary infractions (DiIulio, 1990).
Industry supporters point out in response to these concerns that industry campaign contributions are smaller than those made by public sector unions ( Moore, 1998). There is no evidence, they say, of private prison officials manipulating parole decisions.
RehabilitationThe profit motive, opponents of privatization say, distorts the function of prisons towards incapacitation and away from the provision of rehabilitative services that would help prisoners rejoin society productively, and curb recidivism. Corrections firms have no incentive, they say, to provide costly rehabilitative treatment and services. Industry analysts respond that it all depends on the contract. There is much potential for contracts to be structured in ways that provide incentives to firms to provide services such as drug treatment (Lissner, et al, 1998.). Indeed, in Puerto Rico and Australia, pilot programs are being conducted with so called "outcome-based contracting", wherein fees are tied to the impact and measured outcomes of incarceration (Cornell et al, 1998).
Opponents of privatization argue that it is an illegitimate delegation of government authority to allow private companies to take control of an integral part of the justice system. Proponents of privatization disagree. They make a distinction between the function of the courts and that of the prisons. It is the proper duty of the public sector, they allow, to determine just sentences for violations of the law. But the duty of the prisons, they argue, is merely to carry out the sentence of the courts, and they see no reason why this task ought not be delegated to a private entity. Opponents of privatization claim to the contrary that it is difficult or impossible to distinguish these two functions, given the level of control that prison officials have over the nature (and, potentially, the duration) of an inmate's stay. Prison officials have the prerogative to impose disciplinary measures ranging from revocation of yard privileges to the imposition of solitary confinement, and so have a great deal of control over just how punitive an experience each sentence truly is (DiIulio, 1990).
This is just another step towards elimination of the bargaining power of the American workers and the attack on the middle class.