Saturday, January 18

Heed risks of cost-saving measures

Privatizing state prisons and building others in Mexico for undocumented inmates is financially, ethically problematic

Like the making of a sequel to an already bad movie, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to privatize and build prisons in Mexico for undocumented inmates is beginning to sound like we’re in for “Guantanamo Bay: Part II” starring the Governator himself.

In an endeavor to redirect money toward higher education, the governor hopes to implement a new plan to allow corporations along with public prisons to house inmates. Although I applaud his efforts to help higher education, privatizing prisons and shipping undocumented inmates to Mexican jails are not only financially short-sighted, but are also ethically lacking.

Schwarzenegger’s plan to help ease the financial squeeze felt by California schools and students indicates a partial success for students who protested the fee hikes. In other words, our voices were heard. But I doubt that anyone chanting “our university” slogans also happened to yell, “And hand those prisoners to private corporations and Mexican prisons!”

The governor’s suggestion to allow corporations to house prisoners is similar to the idea of auctioning prisoners off to the highest bidder. Though they may not be forced into physical slavery, their transfer to private prisons is a blatant reminder of the buying and selling practices of gladiator days.

“I think that there is no reason why we should have just state employees and public prisons,” Schwarzenegger said in a press conference to reporters. “Why shouldn’t we have private prisons and private prisons competing with public prisons?”

Handing responsibility over prisons to private businesses that, by definition, function to make a profit will result in stronger incentives to build more prisons and board more prisoners, reducing jail time as a form of implementing justice to a maneuver for increasing profit. Neither will make for financially or ethically sound policies in the long run.

The state hopes that privatizing prisons will help diminish the neglect that has thus far led to overcrowding and violence in prisons. But even if prisons turn to private hands, it may prove more profitable for companies to overcrowd their own prisons, worsening the problem.

Moreover, the state should still maintain some check on how the facilities are run and how the prisoners are being treated, which will ultimately result in oversight costs. The prison system is supposed to be an important rehabilitation institution. With corporations seeking profit, how can the state ensure that prisons maintain this function? Furthermore, the governor has failed to explain exactly how he will determine which prisoners get sent to private or public prisons. It’s not as though he can draw names out of a hat or hold a draft session.

To follow the governor’s own methodology, if Schwarzenegger wanted to help the economy, a suggestion to build prisons in other U.S. states instead of Mexico would have been a more economically savvy idea. Although Mexico is geographically close to California, so are three U.S. states. So why not pay a U.S. state to house your inmates rather than throwing the burden onto another country?

Moving undocumented prisoners to Mexico also violates practical ethics. Even if the inmates he plans on moving are undocumented, they may still have families who legally reside in California. Not to mention, these inmates may not have the luxury of flying their lawyers to another country for appeals or changes in their respective cases.

Procedures for dealing with the right for speedy trials or access to a judicial bureau would be difficult to establish when the prisoner is in another country, reducing inmates’ access to rightful legal aid. If the inmates have been imprisoned according to state laws and institutions, privatizing the prisons and placing them in another country allows private corporations to play a powerful role in the justice system.

Based on his statements, it sounds as though Schwarzenegger suggested Mexico because of the large number of illegal immigrants in the state who come from there.

“I think that we can do so much better in the prison system alone if we can go and take, inmates for instance, the 20,000 inmates that are illegal immigrants that are here and get them to Mexico,” Schwarzenegger said.

However, he claims that taking our prisoners to Mexico would be justified because we would be paying Mexico to take them. “Think about it ““ if California gives Mexico the money. Not “˜Hey, you take care of them, these are your citizens.’ No. Not at all.”

Despite these protestations of not “dumping” illegal immigrants in Mexico, moving all undocumented inmates there implies an assumption by the state that all of them are originally from Mexico. Considering that legal and illegal immigrants come to California from all over the world, it is simply wrong to assume that all undocumented inmates are from Mexico.

In an effort to save money, the lack of oversight and the incentives for profit may lead to both a reduction in public safety and the possible birth of a second Guantanamo.

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