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Since we were on the subject of rent-seeking in our last two posts, I happened to be in Phoenix over the weekend and was reminded of this insidious subject when I saw the following headline at the local newsstand:

This story was covered more in-depth at the Huffington Post. This post is not an endorsement of illegal immigration, but an expose’ of how the relentless and amoral function of profit-seeking in capitalism has taken over our correctional institutions through privatization, becoming another wasteful and corrupt form of rent-seeking. For-profit prisons are one of the more grotesque formations in the annals of capitalism.

According to the aforementioned articles, the for-profit prison industry has grown from just 10% of beds to the present proportion of one half. And this growth has come off the backs of taxpayers who are footing the bill for the expansion of federal facilities to house the roughly 400,000 illegal immigrants jailed each year. The cost to taxpayers will be nearly 2 billion this year. The question is how has this growth occurred in an environment of falling illegal immigration:

Much of the drop in illegal immigrants is due to the persistently weak U.S. economy, which has shrunk construction and service-sector jobs attractive to Mexican workers following the housing bust. But increased deportations, heightened U.S. patrols and violence along the border also have played a role, as well as demographic changes, such as Mexico’s declining birth rate.

If you read between the lines, the answer is in the amount of lobbying that the for-profit industry has carried out in order to milk the system and secure governments contracts:

The industry’s giants – Corrections Corporation of America, The GEO Group, and Management and Training Corp. – have spent at least $45 million combined on campaign donations and lobbyists at the state and federal level in the last decade, the AP found…

…it wasn’t until 2005 – as the corrections companies’ lobbying efforts reached their zenith – that ICE got a major boost. Between 2005 and 2007, the agency’s budget jumped from $3.5 billion to $4.7 billion, adding more than $5 million for custody operations.

Dora Schriro, who in 2009 reviewed the nation’s detention system at the request of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, said nearly every aspect had been outsourced…

…An AP review of Federal Election Commission data found the prison companies and their employees gave to key congressional leaders who control how much money goes to run the nation’s detention centers and who influence how many contracts go to the private sector…

Besides the fact that it’s your tax dollars being stolen, how does this affect you? You’re not an illegal immigrant, you say. The tentacles of the prison industrial complex have a way of entangling more of the ever-growing ranks of the poor, an increasing number of which are the former members of the crumbling middle class. If you fall off the capitalist treadmill of debt peonage and run afoul of the law, the 1%’ers have a bed in one of their for-profit prisons waiting for you…

Related articles:

By the Numbers: The U.S.’s Growing For-Profit Detention Industry 

Harvesting the Slaves Down on the Plantation


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