Lock’em up and throw away your conscience
BY DAVID RUTTER November 29, 2013 11:20AM
Updated: January 2, 2014 6:20AM
Scum has feelings.
Scum has rights.
Scum will not stand for this slander.
If there were legal minions at the apocryphal firm of Dewey, Cheatem and Howe, they would sue. They’d thwart anyone who links the word “scum” with GEO Group, the commercial prison business.
Organic scum has suffered bad PR historically because it’s, well, scummy. But enough is enough. Scum might be the ring around your gums after you drink water from the Grand Calumet. But scum has standards — it’s actually a necessary component in the aquatic food chain — and being linked with GEO violates Hoosier fairness.
GEO’s tendency to corporate sneakiness about its private prison business only makes sense. If the folks in Hobart knew what GEO is and what GEO does, they would hide under their beds.
Keeping secrets is important to GEO. Turning the 40-acre former St. Sava property into a minimum prison was a secret.
Of course, Mayor Brian Snedecor is using the time-tested Sergeant Schultz shuffle by claiming he sees and knows nothing, NOTH-ing! Prison? What prison? It’s as if GEO runs some other business besides keeping people locked up.
Some basics first. Ever since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, locking up as many people as possible has become an American obsession. The private prison business was teetering in the years just before the World Trade Center assault, but our fears have made for millions in unexpected prison profit.
As opposed to the stated principles of modern government lockups, the commercial prison biz has minimal interest in rehabilitation, reducing recidivism rates, increasing public safety, or lowering crime rates. For-profit prisons make money by keeping inmates locked up as long and cheaply as possible, and the more the merrier.
Making monstrous bucks is the only moral equation under their consideration. According to SEC filings from 2008 to 2012, CEO George C. Zoley made $22,315,704, almost all from U.S. taxpayers who pay for his prisons.
The industry has spent millions successfully and secretly lobbying politicians to keep inmates locked up. Immigration reform? Not interested, because that’s fewer prisoners. Three-strikes-and-you’re-in-for-life? Love it. Longer mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offenses? Yep. Throw away the key.
The Soylent Green industry needs an unending supply of humans on the conveyor belt. GEO, which runs 96 facilities totaling approximately 73,000 beds worldwide, spends millions to settle human rights lawsuits. How? The company made $384 million just from federal contracts in 2012.
Texas and Mississippi had jail contracts with GEO, but bailed because the conditions inside the prisons were “cesspools” of violence, degradation, gang warfare and sexual assaults. And that was the guards. Prisoners have died because prescribed medication was withheld. Prisoners have been beaten to death in solitary confinement. Prisoners have committed suicide rather than take GEO treatment. Their prisoners riot. And they often escape.
GEO specializes in immigrant detention, which seems benign, except for the way GEO does it. They keep people locked up as long as possible and often for the legal equivalent of a traffic ticket. They make profit because they short all the expenses that normal jails need — such as professional staff and toilet paper.
A federal study of a GEO juvenile prison in Mississippi said the state had showed “deliberate indifference” in failing to protect youths from harm. Sexual misconduct by employees, it said, “was among the worst that we have seen in any facility anywhere in the nation.”
How does such a thoroughly repugnant bunch as GEO survive to make $1.5 billion a year? First, the nation has 1.6 million in prison, the highest rate in the world. Almost 50 percent are in prison for non-violent drug offenses.
As for GEO, the company relies on local politicians to be indifferent accomplices to the darkness and depravity. There are low-paying jobs to be had. And if local politicians can keep eyes shut and noses covered, they acquire plausible deniability.
Maybe Hobart doesn’t care. But consider this. GEO ran such horrendous snake pits that Texas and Mississippi could not tolerate the moral stench. If human dignity in Texas and Mississippi is offended, that’s saying something.
Just don’t call GEO scum, because scum has rights and lawyers.
David Rutter was an editor at six community newspapers more than 40 years, including nearly a decade as managing editor of the Post-Tribune. His column appears Sundays in the Post-Tribune. Contact him at email@example.com.