Thursday, April 15, 2010

No to private prisons

Given what you read here every day, you’d probably expect to see me overjoyed at the government’s  announcement of a private prison in Wiri.

Well, I’m not.

You could only think I’d be overjoyed if you haven’t read me closely. Delivering prisoners to private enterprise to incarcerate is an unconscionable mixing of the dollar and the gun that can only lead to disaster.

It’s telling that the only privatisation contemplated by this Labour-Lite government is the only privatisation that should not be done.

But rather than repeat what I’ve already said before on this topic, let me just direct you there instead:

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22 Comments:

Blogger twr said...

I note you never responded to my comment on the previous post that ultimately everything is contracted out to private individuals, and therefore your argument doesn't stack up.

If you have government run prisons, police, or army, you are still giving a gun to a private citizen. Who happens to be running their payroll system is irrelevant.

4/15/2010 11:50:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Who happens to be running their payroll system is irrelevant."

Dunno about that... if the government is running the prisons, they will have more control over how the prisoners are rehabilitated.
I see what you're saying, that the workers will be made up of individuals, but there is still a level of control from above. MP's may be individuals, but they come under a party umbrella and are therefor controlled to an extent.

Not PC - nice post, too often we (including me) get blinded by our ideology and can't take a rational view on things.
Even for people who believe in the free market and privatization, they need to ask themselves if prisons should be privatized?
Where do we draw the line? We know police and firemen should be publicly funded, why do people think prisons shouldn't?
To consider prisoners and criminals as customers for a business is crazy.

4/15/2010 12:07:00 pm  
Anonymous Anti-Anarchist said...

TWR said...
I note you never responded to my comment on the previous post that ultimately everything is contracted out to private individuals, and therefore your argument doesn't stack up.

TWR, look no further than Somalia. There are different regions with different private armies and law enforcers in their respective areas. Now, those various warring factions are being paid from outside countries (Saudi Arabia, US, EU countries, etc,...) who have their own vested interests in Somalia. In other words, privatization of the services that are supposed to be the central core function of a proper government does work pretty well in Somalia, doesn't it? Think about the consequences of trying to privatize law & order.

4/15/2010 12:21:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

@TWR: No, I don't agree with that. You're doing precisely the blurring of government and private that this sort of medling of gun and dollar does.

I think the reaon I didn't reply before is because I though the answer was already contained within the previous post. That, or I may have run out of time. :-)

Anyway, there is a firm distinction that must be maintained between legitimate government action and private action. There is a very good reason that governments are instituted amng men: because their legitimate role is to bring the retaliatory use of force under objective control. That's why they have a monopoly on the use of force: because to "farm out" force is to farm out that monopoly. A genie that should not be let out of the bottle.

The fact is that government employees and private individuals are very different and have very different motivations, and it would be very wrong to conflate the two.

The basic principle is that private individuals may do anything they like, so long as it's not prohibited by law (and acting in retaliation, except for purposes of self-defence, is properly prohibited by law). Whereas as a government employeee, you may do nothing excpet what is required of you by law (ni this case, carrying out the consequences of being an employee of an agency having a monopoly on the use of force).

Those two things must not be conflated. The use of force must not be privatised.

That’s the moral argument against private prisons, that it puts the gun in the service of the dollar. The practical argument is related: that it puts profits at the whim of bureaucratic management.

As Ludwig von Mises points out, the profit management of a private firm is a very different animal to the bureaucratic management of government –- and with public-private partnerships we truly get the worst of both.As he explains in 'Human Action', “the only appropriate method for handling governmental affairs, for which market processes, economic calculation and the profit motive are unable to provide sufficient guidelines … is the employment of bureaucrats and bureaucratic management.” And it’s true. When there’s no real market, then there’s no genuine way to use the profit motive appropriately – and no way to contrive a market to do that.

And if you do try to, then by whatever system of contracting out you devise, you still inevitably invite the corruption inevitable when you invite Orren Boyle to lie down with those who can quite literally deliver him a captive market.

In short, it very much does matter who's running the payroll, and how that payroll gets funded.

4/15/2010 12:22:00 pm  
Blogger twr said...

All: I'm not saying they should be privately funded. I'm trying to say that the management structure needent be paid directly by the government.

All the other services that government purchases from private suppliers are subject to contracts with various requirements and penalties.

At the end of the day:

- ultimately both government and private companies need to hire individuals to actually do all the work.
- both those sets of individuals have motivations based on their own personal wellbeing. The employer gives them money to make their goals match the employer's.
- the only difference here between private and govt run prisons is the motivation of management.
- if a contract is structured correctly, with rewards and penalties, the purchaser of the services is likely to get what they want.
- in virtually every other example we can think of, the private sector will do a better job of providing a service than government, because they are motivated to do so. Government employees aren't.

It seems odd to protest in this case about how the details of the management structure works. You don't expect government to provide the builders for the prisons.

AA: I don't think I was suggesting anarchy, and a comparison with Somalia is patently disingenuous. If the government doesn't like how a private prison is run, then it can penalise the managers/company or terminate the contract.

To claim that a purchaser of contracted services has no control over the provision of those services, or that because money is involved then it will automatically be corrupt is ridiculous.

Incidentally, when private prisons have been tried they have largely been a demonstrable success.

4/15/2010 01:47:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

@TWR: You don't appear to have addressed the moral issue at all-the issue, not to say the danger, of putting the gun at the service of the dollar.

"Incidentally, when private prisons have been tried they have largely been a demonstrable success."

Even if true, I'd say that would very much depend on what you mean by "success." I'm sure Orren Boyle would call the strangling of Hank Rearden a success--doesn't make it right. Or good.

4/15/2010 02:04:00 pm  
Blogger Ruth said...

If 'success' means crony capitalism, back-handers, and sundry employers and employees backing longer and longer sentences and punishment to feather their own nests, then yes - private prisons are a success for sure. Good post PC and a good issue for Libz to run with, I think.

4/15/2010 02:19:00 pm  
Anonymous Richard McGrath said...

@PC: "The use of (retaliatory) force must not be privatised."

However people still have the right to use retaliatory force in self-defence, do they not?

Regarding prisons, how about the contracting of building the prisons to the private sector? And the provision of prison staff - cuold that be contraxcted out to an agency?

If prison management were government employees working on site, but the warders, cooks, maintenance staff, medical staff, etc., were all contracted from the private sector, would that still qualify as state-run?

twr's point in the first post seems a good one - ultimately the work is contracted to private individuals. The main point to me is that the management and ultimate responsibility for prisons should rest with the government, but they should be able to contract some of the prison-related jobs out.

Likewise the police force - perhaps have different agencies training and providing personnel, but under the direct supervision of the government once they are employed as police officers.

4/15/2010 02:32:00 pm  
Blogger twr said...

Even though you said it in an obnoxious and sarcastic way Ruth, you do have a point. However, I believe the people involved in the incident you are probably referring to were caught and prosecuted.

As with any other business relationship, the contract needs to be written in such a way as to prevent any possible corruption, and to detect and punish any that does occur.

PC: The moral issue must be moot anyway, as you are ultimately putting the application of force into private hands, whether the prison is government run or not. A government isn't an actual thing you can touch - it's made up of a bunch of individuals. And individuals are far from immune to corruption if their employment contract states their employer is the government rather than a private company.

4/15/2010 05:13:00 pm  
Anonymous Jack said...

A general principle here is that many of the specific material means required by government to implement its legitimate functions have uses in the private sector as well.

You could probably contract out most guard duties to the private sector. You could have the higher positions/ management run by the government though.....for the sake of an example.

The government's monopoly on force doesn't bar hiring private contractors to implement government actions.

4/15/2010 05:15:00 pm  
Anonymous Mike said...

And if you do try to, then by whatever system of contracting out you devise, you still inevitably invite the corruption inevitable when you invite Orren Boyle to lie down with those who can quite literally deliver him a captive market.

There is always SOME chance for corruption. Whoever the government hires has some chance of corruption. You can never totally avoid the chance of it happening.

4/15/2010 05:18:00 pm  
Anonymous Jack said...

However people still have the right to use retaliatory force in self-defence, do they not?

instances of such self-defense must be validated *as* self-defense by the government. That's part of what it means for government to have a monopoly on retaliatory force -- government is the final judge on whether a given use of force is retaliatory or not.

4/15/2010 05:20:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

NZ has had a private prison that was much cheaper than the govt version. Labour replaced it.
NZ already has a range of private police service as well as the labour-inflitrated cops.

All prisons should be privatised and ideally run at a profit for their owners. Ditto the cops.

Then my hard-earned fucking tax dollars won't go towards catching, feeding, housing, closing, treating, and ulitmately keeping alive a bunch of crims. Private police could be paid to ensure crims never make it to prison - just like the rabbiters were paid to keep rabbits down.

Hell, even Gordon Brown is promising that crims will have to pay for their investigations, trials, imprisonment, parole etc - by a social debt mechanism like student loans. A great idea that hopefully Garrett will pick up for NZ
- but an even better idea is to privatise out both cops and prisons, and allow private financial providers to help crims meet their obligations (where that is possible).

4/15/2010 10:08:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

@Anonymous/Sinner: Your "arguments" seem to lack a "because" statement.

And you've been told before that you're distasteful prose is unwelcome here. Please desist.

4/15/2010 10:21:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is incarceration "force?" Or is it a dividend of force? I am not certain either way. This poser requires/deserves further thought.

Chris R

4/16/2010 07:33:00 am  
Blogger Mark said...

Unusually for me, I'm fence sitting on this issue.

I understand the dangers of putting the gun at the service of the dollar, but I think TWR has a point that hasn't been addressed.

Presumably no-one disagrees it's ok for a private contractor to build the prison, supply the prison with food, etc...provided the requirements are directed by government, under a government supply contract.

What's the difference then, in getting a private contractor to also run the prison from day to day? Again, provided that the conduct of the contractor is directed, managed and audited by government?

If not, then what's the fundamental difference between the two?

In the 2nd example, by virtue of the contract, wouldn't government still control what's going on?

4/16/2010 01:29:00 pm  
Anonymous Anit-Anarchist said...

I think that the danger here, is that it may progress to contracting out law enforcement to private companies at some stage in the future.

4/16/2010 01:32:00 pm  
Anonymous John "Galt" Key said...

"Hell, even Gordon Brown is promising that crims will have to pay for their investigations, trials, imprisonment, parole etc - by a social debt mechanism like student loans. A great idea that hopefully Garrett will pick up for NZ
- but an even better idea is to privatise out both cops and prisons, and allow private financial providers to help crims meet their obligations (where that is possible)."

That's a really good idea. Perhaps the private prisons could offer extras such as receiving regular beatings by the guards (and we all know a private prison can more efficiently hire brutal thugs than a government bureaucracy), receiving food tainted with salmonella, and having a bee hive placed in the inmates cell (and the bees are specially bred african bees which are particularly angry). The Victim's family could pay extra for these things to be added on to the crim's sentence, or conversely the crim could get funding from a private financial provider to have these things NOT happen.

4/16/2010 01:43:00 pm  
Anonymous Mo said...

I think that the danger here, is that it may progress to contracting out law enforcement to private companies at some stage in the future.

that is only a problem if "private law enforment companies" are not regulated by the government and do not get their legal sanction to exist from the government. I think that we can see some security companies that will complement the police, but never replace them entirely. And they would not have the same authorities as the police.

4/16/2010 10:24:00 pm  
Anonymous Mo said...

As Ludwig von Mises points out, the profit management of a private firm is a very different animal to the bureaucratic management of government –- and with public-private partnerships we truly get the worst of both.As he explains in 'Human Action', “the only appropriate method for handling governmental affairs, for which market processes, economic calculation and the profit motive are unable to provide sufficient guidelines … is the employment of bureaucrats and bureaucratic management.” And it’s true. When there’s no real market, then there’s no genuine way to use the profit motive appropriately – and no way to contrive a market to do that.

this does not deal with the fundamental issue at hand: the principle of individual rights.

The only question I care about is: Is it compatible with the principle of individual rights? The government's sole function is to protect the rights of individuals. And as far as I can tell, this is compatible. So your argument is not a good reason to be opposed to it.

as Jack said, The government's monopoly on force doesn't bar hiring private contractors to implement government actions.

4/16/2010 10:51:00 pm  
Blogger Blair said...

I think that the danger here, is that it may progress to contracting out law enforcement to private companies at some stage in the future.

Cops only do what every adult citizen should have the right to do themselves. They do it because we're normally too busy doing something else. I don't see the problem with paying insurance for a private firm to investigate crime and make arrests - as long as a magistrate can swiftly rule on the legitimacy of it.

4/17/2010 04:48:00 am  
Anonymous LGM said...

The provision of prisons necessarily mixes the dollar with force. There is no way around it. The jails need to be built, managed and maintained (someone's gotta do it & someone's gotta pay for it). The prisons have to be manned with professional staff (someone's got to do it & someone's gotta pay for it). The prisoners need to be fed, clothed, washed, abluted, administered, supervised and medicated when required (someone's gotta do it & someone's gotta pay for it). For each function, in each case and at all times private individuals and private organisations are necessarily involved.

No matter how this business is attended to, at some point there is the existence of a public-private partnership. It is potentially corrosive. PC's post relates to where the boundaries are drawn. The question to address is whether thaos boundaries can ever be objectively defined and retained or, whether they remain arbitrary and flexible.

---

An aside:
The incarceration of thousands of New Zealanders is partially a result of the social policies pursued by generations of collectivist governments in NZ. The future is set for significant escalation.

The private-public partnership presently being promoted is likely nothing more than some good ol' fashioned cronyism along with what that implies. Some of you are going to get caught up in it. Perhaps you'll end up enjoying a spell, or perhaps it'll be some of your friends, or even family members. When that occurs it will be interesting to hear of the experience and whether they are treated humanely and in a civilised manner.

A well known QC once stated, "Nobody escapes unaffected". He was correct on that. The treatment of inmates conveys an insight into some of the core values of the members of a society, as well as having significant effects upon that society. This topic can't be properly dealt with in isolation- indeed, a public private partnership in more ways than the obvious one.

"Nobody escapes unaffected."


LGM

4/17/2010 08:08:00 am  

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