Koch Institute mass incarceration panelists call out private prisons

On April 16, 2014 the Charles Koch Institute and Mediaite hosted Rule of Law: How the Criminal Justice System Impacts Well-Being, a panel discussion in Austin, TX, which sought to foster discussion focused on the impacts of mass incarceration on our society. For an event branded by Koch — the family name notorious for their mutli-billion dollar conglomerate Koch Industries, Inc. and pro-free market and privatization ideology — the discussion around the for-profit, private prison industry was an interesting one.  

Panelists, including President of the Texas NAACP, Gary Bledsoeformer Police Commissioner of the New York City Police Department, Bernard Kerik; Executive Director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Norman L. Reimer; and Director of the Center for Effective Justice and Right on Crime with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Marc Levin, had a few powerful remarks concerning the private prison industry and its tactics to maximize the number of people we put behind bars.  Here are a few noteworthy highlights from the discussion.  You can watch the event in it's entirety here.


Question: Might criminal justice reform mean more private investment or investment in work release or transitional housing programs?

“I’m not for privatization getting involved in that because I think it becomes more of a business. Personally speaking I think you want to see these programs that are run by governmental entities so that it doesn’t become an unreasonable incentive to put people in the programs that are run.  I think there are some things you just don’t do as a society.  You don’t encourage people who are elderly or people who are being confined become a tool of financial circumstance, and I think that’s one of the reasons we have the problem in the system that we do now because there’s so much money involved in the system." - Gary Bledsoe, President of the Texas NAACP

Once the topic of private prisons arose, Bernard Kerik referenced a letter written by private prison company, Corrections Corporation of America, sent to the Governors of 48 states offering to take control of their prison systems under conditions that the state 1) sign a minimum 20-year contract and 2) guarantee 90% occupancy.  This is what he had to say about it:

“This is true what I’m telling you.  If I was running Rikers and signed a contract like that, I could promise you I would have to do many, many things illegally to meet the contract. I’d have to make sure that people got violated.  I’d have to make sure that they got no incentivized good-time.  I’d have to make sure that I did everything physically in my power to keep those facilities packed to guarantee me a 90% occupancy rate.  Who in the world can guarantee in 4 years from now… in 6, 8, 12 years from today I’m gonna have a 90% occupancy rate in a facility? How are you gonna sign a contract like that?  But there are states that are seriously considering privatizing under those conditions. It’s insane.” - Bernard Kerik, former Police Commissioner of the New York City Police Department

"I totally agree with you that those arrangements are flat out wrong... First of all, don’t incentivize incarceration, don’t guarantee occupancy rates, that’s obvious. But, also don’t just have a flat per diem but have an incentive for reducing recidivism. Pay in large measure based on results." - Marc Levin, Director of the Center for Effective Justice and Right on Crime with the Texas Public Policy Foundation 

"There are some places where you have to say no, privatization isn’t right. You wouldn’t privatize the national defense of the country. We shouldn’t privatize incarceration or the criminal justice system. Do private entities have a role to play in helping? Sure. But, you can’t put a profit motive in locking people up. Because if you do that, you wind up with what you have now, which is mass incarceration.” - Norman L. Reimer,  Executive Director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

We're excited and hopeful to see that conversations about mass incarceration are increasingly calling out the role private prison corporations are playing in its perpetuation. The discussion in it's entirety is definitely worth a watch.

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