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Christopher Petrella | Testimony on H.28

Christopher Petrella | Testimony on H.28

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H.28 is a bill recently recently introduced in Vermont's House of Representatives effectively banning private prisons.
H.28 is a bill recently recently introduced in Vermont's House of Representatives effectively banning private prisons.

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Published by: Christopher Petrella on Jan 28, 2013
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01/28/2013

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Montpelier, VermontState House25 January 2013Testimony on H.28 (bill banning private prisons)Christopher Petrella
Good afternoon Representative Wizowaty and other distinguished members of the VermontHouse Progressive Democratic Caucus. I truly appreciate your invitation and this opportunity tooffer testimony on H.28. I
d like to begin by saying that I unhesitatingly support H.28
a billwhose passage would prohibit the transfer of Vermont inmates to a privately owned oroperated out-of-state correctional facility unless living conditions at that facility meet or exceedthose in Vermont. http://www.leg.state.vt.us/docs/2014/bills/Intro/H-028.pdf  The success of  H.28, in my view, will be
contingent on how well you’re
able to frame policy discussions in yourown terms, that is, in terms un-inherited from the private prison industry. Historically, theprivate prison industry has been expert in crafting policy discussions that consign us
itscritics
to a certain reactionary politics that the public finds distasteful.
We critics of “prison privatization”
far too often undermine our own arguments by workingwithin policy parameters dictated to us by apologists of the industry. The time has come to flipthe script.
My chief intention today isn’t
necessarily to insist that public prisons are
better 
than privateprisons, but to demonstrate that the burden of proof for evaluating correctional services on thebasis of 
efficiency
rests not with us but rather with advocates of privatization. The industryhas had over thirty years to demonstrate that it can provide better services more efficientlythan its public counterparts and yet to date there is
n’t a single
, independent, andmethodologically transparent national study that suggests it can. Nevertheless, the for-profitprison industry insists that privatization
—or extending the reach and influence of the “freemarket”—
will generate efficiencies as companies respond to market pressures.
 
 In the early 19
90’s
Corrections Corporation of America (or CCA)
—now the nation’s largest for
-profit corrections firm (and the firm with which Vermont presently contracts)
predicted that itwould operate around 20 percent of the U.S. corrections market by the year 2000.http://www.privateci.org/ That today it
barely 
operates 4 percent legitimately calls intoquestion the
“market value” of its
services. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p11.pdf  In some senses the private corrections industry falls victim to its own performance metrics: itsrelatively sluggish historical growth rate actually suggests that it responds
inefficiently 
tomarket pressures. This is precisely why large private prison companies spend millions of dollarseach year encouraging lawmakers to establish artificial markets for their services.Unfortunately, much of the irony is lost on the public.
I mention these contradictions because they’re worth exploiting in political debate, particularly
as the country begins to lock its eyes on Verm
ont. I’ve gotte
n no less than fifty e-mails over thelast few days on the subject of H.28. The nation is curious and concerned and everything inbetween. If this bill is enacted, Vermont will join a short list of states
three
that effectivelystatutorily ban
“private prisons.” 
http://www.mintpress.net/kids-for-cash-scandal-exposes-more-corruption-in-private-prison-system/ Part of the politics of this process, I think, isunderscoring the reality that private prison companies have yet to prove their worth in themarket, in court, and as Dr. King might
say, “
in
the court of public opinion.”
This argument isbest made by demonstrating to Vermonters that prison privatization inherently compromisesthe
state D.O.C.s ability to meet its fundamental aims, that is, to show that CCA’s business
objectives stand at cross-purposes with
the D.O.C.’s four
-part strategic mission of 1) prioritizingoffender safety, 2) offender rehabilitation, 3) community safety, and 4) community involvementand restoration. http://www.doc.state.vt.us/news-info/news-files/plan-1/view The imperative to generate shareholder value intrinsically situates safety, rehabilitation, and communitybuilding as ancillary concerns. Underscoring this hierarchy of values as often as possible isparamount.
 
Many ask, “…
but
where’s the proof 
?
 
Perhaps you’re aware that
CCA (and the GEO Group, forthat matter) is in the process of reclassifying itself with the IRS from a traditional
“class
-
c”
corporation
whose mission is “correctional solutions”
to a Real Estate Investment Trust, or aREIT. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, a REIT is a company that owns -and typically operates - income-producing real estate or real estate-related assets as its
 primary 
 business. To qualify as a REIT, a company must have the majority of its assets and incometethered to real estate investment. A REIT distributes at least 90 percent of its taxable incometo shareholders annually in the form of dividends in exchange for a federal and state corporateincome tax rate of zero. That is, companies organized as REITs
don’t pay corporate taxes.
CCA’s quest for REIT
a status designation shows that the company
 primarily 
sees itself as a real estate firm that incidentally dabbles in corrections, not as anagency whose
 primary 
objective is rehabilitation, safety, or community restoration. Thisemerging REIT conversion narrative is
chronically underreported but I believe it’s
worthhighlighting in the context of H.28 deliberation.As a short
aside, the language of “real estate”
here is particularly troubling in light of the factthat people of color
specifically African Americans who were once legally reduced to chattel,that is, to real estate
are over-represented in
CCA’s facilities around the country.
the second largest firm
oftenadvertise themselves over and against the supposed inefficiencies of 
“bureaucratic, big
government
they heavily rely on
contracts from “big government
agencies
likes the Bureau of Prisons, ICE, and USMS to expand their margins. Over 40 percent of both CCAhttp://ir.correctionscorp.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=117983&p=irol-reportsannual 
and GEO Group’s
originated in “big government,”
taxpayer-funded contracts.

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