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From the Editor

One of the little noted facts and realities of the massive explosion of mass imprisonment, and the corresponding increase in money spent on prisons and jails, is the inherent corruption that accompanies it. This month’s cover story on the Oregon DOC’s corrupt food manager, Fred Monem, is unusual only in the sense that it was brought to light. Within the past few years the Director of the Illinois DOC was convicted of taking kickbacks from a medical vendor.
James Crosby, the secretary of the Florida DOC, is sitting in prison for taking bribes from commissary vendors. Andy Collins, former director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice was convicted by a jury and later acquitted by a judge of taking bribes from a food and a fence vendor. These are just the big cases. The petty corruption of the guards who smuggle contraband into facilities, who steal money and property from prisoners, is small potatoes compared to the institutional corruption of the head honchos.

In many cases these ostensible public servants sold their offices out very cheap, more so considering their salaries have been more than most Americans make. One of the hallmarks of the American system of mass imprisonment is a lack of oversight and a lack of accountability. Normally this just translates into prisoners being beaten, killed, denied medical care, brutalized and otherwise mistreated and “no one” is responsible. One of the triumphs of the bureaucratization of American prisons and jails over the past 30 years is they have been converted from fiefdoms into bureaucratic labyrinths where the buck never stops.
When it comes to the brutal mistreatment of prisoners the lack of oversight and accountability is deliberate since it reflects the policy decision that prisoners as a class are an expendable population. But that cannot be said about the pilfering and theft of tax dollars, kickbacks from vendors and other forms of thievery that are all too common. PLN frequently reports how private prison companies admit to bilking prison systems out of millions of dollars for services they never provide, how medical companies contract for staffing levels they never meet, the lack of contract monitoring or sanctions and much more.

Besides keeping people locked up, the prisons and jails in the U.S. do little very well. They don’t give their captives educations, job skills, build their family ties, change criminal mind sets or provide adequate medical care, mental health or substance abuse treatment. In this context, it is not surprising that corruption flourishes. And why shouldn’t it? When James Crosby was warden of the Florida State Prison in Starke, Frank Valdez, a death row prisoner, was beaten to death by guards. Crosby’s reward? He was promoted to head the Florida prison system. Brutality and corruption go hand in hand. As the cover story notes, while the food fed to Oregon prisoners steadily worsened, Monem got richer and his political masters happier. Virtually all the major incidents of prison and jail corruption reported in the past decade have come to light by a disgruntled whistleblower who felt slighted or short changed by their cohorts, not the investigative prowess of the agencies who purport to ensure the integrity of government.

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