† Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.
CI: Con Artists, Profit and Community Corrections
by Kay Whitlock
There’s a con game, going on in the field of reducing prison populations, folks, and a big part of it is disguised under concepts like “community corrections” “alternatives to incarceration,” and “re-entry programs.”
The focus in this post is on the New Jersey “community corrections” confidence game.
Like all swindles, this con game plays to and manages a variety of public perceptions, hopes and expectations: reducing the prison population, reducing prison spending, ending the injustices of the so-called “war on drugs (particularly for those convicted of minor offenses),” emphasizing alternatives to incarceration wherever possible, relying on imprisonment only for the most violent offenders, and creating safer communities. It’s a win-win for everyone, right? Or so the public relations blitz on the subject seems to indicate.
Take another look. A while back, CI published “Confidence Men & Prison Reform,” an overview of the blitz and problem: profit-producing “prison reform” initiatives that are attracting uncritical “bipartisan” support in state legislatures.
This swindle has no intention of dismantling the racism and economic violence so foundational to the U.S. incarceration society. But it does have every intention of strengthening the complex network of public and private interests, institutions, and corporations that make up the prison industrial complex – though it tries to use a variety of cosmetic tricks and a little sleight of hand to convince you you’re seeing something different. As economist Paul Krugman says, what’s going on in New Jersey is part of “a broader pattern in which essential functions of government are being both privatized and degraded.”
Here’s the New Jersey cautionary tale – revealed with special thanks to the New York Times and to Prison Legal News; their articles detailing aspects of this story are linked throughout this discussion.