Monday, August 20, 2007

Feature Article: "Jailing Nation: How Did Our Prison System Become Such a Nightmare?"


The Reeves County Detention Center complex in Pecos
, all three units of which are now under federal Bureau of Prisons contract to The GEO Group, in partnership with Reeves County, has regressed to nothing more than a prison warehousing facility. Under the new BOP contract and the red pencil of the new county judge, Sam Contreras, rehabilitation programs such as education, and substance abuse are suffering the gutting of their budgets before the corporatist juggernaut of profit-taking. This is to say nothing of the food and programmatic medical concerns that have also caused conflict at other Texas GEO-run facilities.

Don’t expect The GEO Group to promote humanist or progressive concerns that might actually benefit the tax paying public through rehabilitation efforts. Regional heads of this prison-for-profit corporation are as unenlightened about progressive rehabilitation strategies as a bunch of tobacco chewing jailers in Langtree throwing down shots of rye whiskey in The Jersey Lilly after a hanging.

In convolution with this testosterone-injected, cowboy-with-a-badge mentality -- perhaps even groveling to placate it -- the current national domestic slash & burn mindset that channels all available federal monies into a hawkish neoconservative foreign policy benefiting what Eisenhower dubbed "the military-industrial complex," doesn't leave much left-over for progressive prison programs. A new Democratic congressional majority has done little to challenge the current regressive domestic policies, recently presided over by Karl Rove and Tom DeLay.

So The GEO Group doesn't deserve all the blame -- only that part which is responsible for completely destroying staff moral and creativity vis-a-vis a corporatist authoritarian system of micromanagement, inflexible policy structures (unless it benefits the upper hierarchy to become hypocritically flexible in their own interest), poor boundaries between job assignments, an unresponsive, unidirectional communication network, a condescending demand for employee loyalty when absolutely none is given in return, bullying bosses that rule by threat, personal devaluation and coercion rather than through enlightened responsive management styles more typical of functional systems -- those that empower people and encourage teamwork. Stack that on top of a know-it-all attitude, a pervasive disrespect and total disregard for professionals representing the non-corrections disciplines and you have an authoritarian dominated workplace that promises burn-out and episodic employee abuse.

To wit: with one voice, from their national headquarters in Boca Raton, Florida, to the contract overseers in Pecos, GEO administrators have made it obvious that they could care less about any objective that diminishes optimum profitability, including that most paramount of all traditional American social values, the common good. This negligence of social responsibility to the tax payer and to its own employees presides unchallenged despite that educational deficits, accountability (addressed by "therapeutic community treatment programming") and substance abuse are the most significant risk factors for recidivism among the people most in need of their mission. But in the case of The GEO Group, the old adage “pay me now or pay me latter” is just another means of profitability in the futures market. They simply don't care about the principles of rehabilitation -- money comes first, not your family member doing time for non-violent immigration or substance abuse offenses, offenders who could benefit from such programs and turn their lives around with community support.

Anxious to prove his salt to the county as a penny-pinching financial wizard, County Judge Sam Contreras has administered the prison complex with an unwitting neoconservative mindset in all matters including the promotion and aggrandizement of his own cadre of cronies and family members; although, he must surely be unaware that his "gut it & run" perspective was presaged by post-reform minded, law & order conservatives now turned Straussian in the Bush Administration.

Ironically, Contreras ran as a Democrat. However, in West Texas that means nothing in a region historically laden with corruption and political cronyism of the sort brought to notorious putrescence under Republican Representative Henry Bonilla, one of the most infamous of Tom DeLay's and President Dubya's Congressional yes-men, defeated in 2004 by Democrat Ciro Rodriguez in a purge by voters. To his credit, in all but matters of family loyalty, Contreras seems dead set on honest and transparent government. He has even reached out through "family ties" to Rep. Rodriguez (former County Judge and Contreras extended family member Jimmy Galindo now works for Ciro Rodriguez). Nevertheless, with GEO working to get him into their back pocket, as is their corporatist style of “lobbying," one has to wonder how long he can hold out against this network of good-ol’-boys who continue to export their profits instead of supercharging the local economy by reinvestment, as was the original expectation -- obviously a “pig-in-a-poke” sold to the voters of Reeves County.

Exacerbating this ironic situation of balancing a county budget on the backs of county workers -- - one that allows for corporate exploitation and no-bid contracts to cronies such as "Affordable Tools" (a telephone on a desk owned by Jimmy Galindo that serves the sole purpose of collecting a cut of the take on maintenance orders) -- Contreras and his County Commission seem to have absolutely no awareness that his short-sighted budgetary policies are Neo-Hooverian, the very style of failure-prone reactionary conservative budget tightening that was administered by President Herbert Hoover in response to the Great Depression until Roosevelt initiated the New Deal (and WWII) to stimulate the economy. If it worked in 1941, perhaps what we can expect from the Reeves County Commission is a war with Mexico.

If Judge Contreras has ever heard of John Maynard Keynes, the New Deal economic wonder boy from Great Britain, he probably thinks he was a jailer at RCDC. What a pity; while he learns his new job, many county employees are suffering at their own. -Progress

For a more enlightened perspective, I present the following article by Daniel Lazare of The Nation, which has been cross-posted to AlterNet. In it, Mr. Lazare provides an arduously researched progressive perspective. I struggle to keep pace. Coincidently, today I received in the mail from Amazon.com, “American Furies: Crime, Punishment, and Vengeance in the Age of Mass Imprisonment,” by Sasha Abramsky, one of Lazare’s sources, a relatively thin, but to the point, academic tome published in May of this year. I will provide a book review upon completion….I promise. ;>) -Progress


Jailing Nation: How Did Our Prison System Become Such a Nightmare?

By Daniel Lazare, The Nation. Posted August 20, 2007.

"With five percent of the world's population, the U.S. has close to a quarter of the world's prisoners. How did the American criminal justice system go so wrong?"


"State health authorities issued a statement in response to rumors related to the deaths of two prisoners from GEO Group's Val Verde lockup. This seems to be in response to an inquiry from the Del Rio New Herald about the numerous contacts they have received.

"The state is saying that the deaths are not from tuberculosis, and not from assaults by staff. They have also said that no staff are ill with similar symptoms. But no word yet on what has caused the two prisoner deaths and what can prevent other prisoner deaths." --Texas Prison Bid'ness

We will be anxious to hear what the CDC and GEO officials have to announce tomorrow. --Progrsss

Least we forget: Our hero Superman was an illegal alien.

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