Edited by Andrew Coyle, Allison Campbell, & Rodney Neufeld,Clarity Press, Inc;
Zed Books (2003) 234 pp. Softback
Review by Mark Wilson
Proponents of prison privatization argue that for-profit prisons make good sense, "promis[ing] reduced costs to governments, better and more cost-effective services to prisoners and increased security for people living in communities where prisons are located." Capitalist Punishment, however, paints a starkly different picture, providing overwhelming evidence that "[p]rison corporations have not lived up to their promises. They have not saved governments substantial amounts of money, nor have they proven to be more secure. Instead, they have contributed to an unacceptable level of neglect and violence against [prisoners] and detainees, diminished rights for the guards and other employees, a risk to the community, and are set to be a heavy burden for the public purse over many years in those countries which have experimented with them."
Capitalist Punishment's diverse and impressive array of contributors leave no stone unturned in their exploration of the flaws and failures of for-profit prisons and jails. They address the history, politics, and economics of massive prison expansion and private sector involvement in America and abroad, discussing privatization experiments in Australia, Canada, France, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.
Capitalist Punishment notes innumerable examples of the consequences of "reckless penny-pinching" designed to increase profit margins and keep shareholders happy. Examples such as "rent-a-cop security forces" which have led to decreased security, poor employment standards, escapes, riots, contraband smuggling, and an overwhelming number of human rights violations ranging from non-existent rehabilitative programs, substandard food and health care, violent assaults, rapes, stabbings, death from neglect and indifference, suicides and homicides.
By the end of Capitalist Punishment, one cannot seriously doubt its claim that the private prison "industry has actually produced a much worse record of deprivation, violence and abuse than is found in the public prison system." The neglect and abuse recounted in Capitalist Punishment are offensive both in degree and in the widespread unchecked recurrence of brutality. American prisoners are routinely dehumanized and killed as for-profit prisons seek to improve their bottom line. The reader will find it difficult to believe that human rights violations of this nature and magnitude happen daily in a "civilized" country. Yet, believe it they must because Capitalist Punishment is meticulously well-researched and documented. Not that public prisons are much better, but at least when government run prisons abuse the prisoners in their care, or the staff in their employ, corporate stockholders are not personally enriched.
Capitalist Punishment is a comprehensive and important book which should be required reading for any legislative body considering the enactment of legislation, introducing for-profit prisons to their states, or expanding an already existing private prison presence within the state. The reader will come away from Capitalist Punishment without a doubt that taxpayers cannot afford the cost in dollars and human lives of private prisons. Copies are available for $19.95, from: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd., NE, Atlanta, GA, 30305, www.claritypress.com. g
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