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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Christopher Petrella

Consequences of California’s Realignment Initiative

Consequences of California’s Realignment Initiative

by Christopher Petrella and Alex Friedmann

David Harvey, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the City University of New York, writes that “capitalism never resolves its problems; it simply rearranges them geographically.” The same can be said of California’s almost three-year-old Public Safety Realignment initiative – legislation designed to reduce the Golden State’s prison population, in part, by transferring thousands of prisoners from state facilities to county jails.

Sadly, Realignment has merely shifted the very forms of human suffering it was originally intended to relieve. This – the paradox of modern penal reform – adds a crucial dimension to discussions about who, why and how we punish offenders. Clearly, shifting a criminal justice crisis isn’t the same as solving one.

The Realignment Initiative

Since at least 2011, the State of California has been the epicenter of contemporary prison reform in the United States. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics has noted that 70% of the total decrease in state prison populations from 2010 to 2011 was a direct result of California’s Public Safety Realignment initiative.

On May 23, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an order by a three-judge federal court ...

Slowly Closing the Gates: A State-by-State Assessment of Recent Prison Closures

by Christopher Petrella and Alex Friedmann

After nearly 40 years of unprecedented growth, our nation's expanding prison population has finally begun to sputter. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2010 marked the first year since 1972 in which, taken together, state and federal correctional populations declined slightly – a trend that continued in 2011.

This modest reduction reflects revisions to draconian drug laws (particularly in New York and Florida), curtailing re-incarceration for technical parole violators, and the burgeoning implementation of "good time" early-release credits. As a result, 15 states have closed 35 adult correctional facilities over the last two years, according to the National Conference of State Legislators, while additional closures are pending in 2013.

Although prison closures are widely celebrated by prisoners and criminal justice reform activists alike, the implementation of such plans is rarely straightforward and often encounters opposition from local communities, prison guard unions and lawmakers in the districts where facilities are slated to close. If achieved, prison closures are usually piecemeal and result in the transfer of prisoners to other facilities, not additional releases. Similarly, prison employees displaced by closures are often absorbed by other facilities, not fired. The predictable tumult resulting from actual and ...

The Color of Corporate Corrections: Overrepresentation of People of Color in the Private Prison Industry

by Christopher Petrella and Josh Begley

While data generated by the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and state departments of corrections (DOCs) have long demonstrated persistent racial disparities in rates of incarceration, no comparative study until now has considered the racial composition of select state-contracted, privately-operated prisons around the nation. We selected California, Texas and Arizona for our examination because they warehouse some of the largest numbers of prisoners in private, for-profit prisons. Taken together, these three states account for over 30 percent of all prisoners held in privatized correctional facilities in the United States.

Our research indicates that although people of color are already overrepresented in public prisons relative to their share of state and national populations, they are further overrepresented by approximately 12 percent in state-contracted correctional facilities operated by for-profit private prison firms. Not only is the overrepresentation of people of color in private prisons a matter of public concern, it also begs some previously unconsidered questions.

Our conclusions are based on the latest U.S. Census demographic figures available through the Prison Policy Initiative’s “Correctional Facility Locator 2010,” cross-referenced with prisoner population directories available on state DOC websites and statistical information procured through public records ...

Private Prison Monopolies

As the late business historian Alfred Chandler, Jr. once said, the visible hand of the corporation has been of far greater importance to capitalism than has Adam Smith’s so-called invisible hand of the market.

Although modern forms of capitalism are justified, and often sanitized, by rhetorical appeals to competition, competition contradictorily tends toward monopoly by eliminating “weaker” firms in any given market. Competition is integral to the rationalizing logic of capitalism writ large, but anathema to individual capitalist firms.
The essential inconsistencies of modern capitalism, however, often serve as the fault lines from which social movements can emerge.

And what better place to begin than with the Tennessee-based private prison firm, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). CCA, in its own words, “is the nation’s largest owner and operator of partnership correction and detention facilities and one of the largest prison operators in the United States, behind only the federal government and three states. [The company] currently operate[s] 67 facilities, including 47
company-owned facilities, with a total design capacity of approximately 92,000 beds in 20 states and the District of Columbia.”

Very few corporations are more notoriously devoted to Chandler’s “visible hand” theory than Corrections Corporation ...


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