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Prisons Are Not Free Markets
By Robert Allan Williams   
Rated "PG" by the Author.
Last edited: Saturday, July 02, 2011
Posted: Saturday, July 02, 2011

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[the following letter to the editor was published in the Oberlin News-Tribune on Thursday, 23 June 2011, p 4A]

As a teacher long in private practice who also taught daily G.E.D. classes while researching attempts at privatization of prison education inside Lorain Correctional Institution from 1993-94, a recent OpEd in a daily broadsheet by Oberlin's Harvey Gittler reminded me there are still many who have a painfully wrong view of privatization.

This misconception no doubt led Mr. Gittler to make the mistaken claim that "All of them, inmates, COs and administration were opposed to privatization". When I liased across the road with colleagues at Grafton, I found much support for the privatized provisions of prison education offered at that time - inmates were fond of the higher education classes offered by Ashland College, among others, and correctional educators welcomed them as a way to supplement their income.

First some economic basics: In a free market there are no corporations; corporations are creations of the state. Only government can intervene and declare a business owner not responsible for his actions in the market, and instead declare an artificial person dubbed a 'corporation' to be responsible. Further, because corporations are creations of the state, they are just as bureaucratic and inefficient as their parent to whom they often go running to for protection from competition in the form of regulations, subsidies and somtimes bailouts. Lastly, corporatization is not privatization. No one is talking about placing vouchers into the hands of inmate consumers to choose his/her prison provision from a variety of prison providers, nor is it likely that it will ever happen.

Prison provision, regulations and funding are the remit of government. It doesn't take a libertarian to see that the provision of prisons anywhere has never been in a market situation. Despite market rhetoric to the contrary, the analogy to free enterprise is false; the inmate is not a consumer. Privatization is being used as a ploy to corporatize prisons and their services, with the hidden aim of permitting some tax dollars to find their way into the pockets of corporation owners. Mr. Gittler is correct to note "In fact, it may cost more", not because the State will need more inspectors but because the corporations will need more subsidies to fund their inherently inefficient operations.

Bob Williams



Web Site: The Oberlin News-Tribune

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