Tuesday, December 18, 2007

More Jails for Jesus!

(Barba here, for the first time in a long while (I've been adjusting to the world of academic administration over the last year, and I've missed the Phronosphere and its inhabitants; as things are presently quiet here on campus, I told Helmut I'd post a bit while he's in Hawaii)).

I got a call yesterday from a concerned citizen of Leonard, TX -- which is northeast of Dallas -- who had read my primer on leaseback financing for private prison development in the South (available in this packet, if you're interested); she told me that Bill Robinson was lobbying the Leonard City Council to issue bonds to build itself a new prison to house out-of-state inmates. Robinson has developed a plan to run a holy hoosegow, and he has pitched it to a number of Texas cities and counties over the past few years. Unfortunately, the Leonard local government appears to be taking him seriously.

My caller reported that, at the end of a city council meeting the other night, an attorney representing the city trumped some citizen concerns by explaining that, "If you're not supporting this project, you need to go home and pray on it, because Satan is working on you."


jenhargis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jenhargis said...

With the information given here, one cannot truly determine how bad this idea is. There is no information on escapes, drug use, or any other criminal activity in state or federal prisons. The leaseback system does sound like a load of crap to me, with or without the above information, however. I would like to see more information about the religious aspect of this particular jail proposal, and under what specific circumstances that quote was made about support for the project. Where can one find such information?

barba de chiva said...

Let me know if this link doesn't work:
It's an archived story -- a little more than a year old -- from the Houston Chronicle.

Robinson doesn't seem like too bad a guy, and the concept, which is heavy on actual rehab & job training, isn't necessarily a bad idea, either.

The problems are subtler, and related to the financing/construction package. It's a lot bigger than Robinson; there's an industry of folks -- (in Texas, they're the same people, over and over), involved in the bond issue (both the financial and legal sides), the construction, the debt service -- who prey (this is not too strong a word) on poor cities and counties in TX in just this way: prison-construction bond issues by those governments mean windfalls for this industry.

Typically, the representatives of the industry -- people who work for companies like Corplan and Municipal Capital Markets and Herbert J. Sims-- resort to a rhetorical approach that plays on the average American sensibility that the world around them is a dangerous, crime-filled one (these are bad people, you're helping your country to keep bad people behind bars, etc.). In the wake of 9/11, prison pitches were colored here in South Texas with plenty of references to terrorists. This is generally augmented by the frequent use of the word "jobs." Robinson's approach -- however valid it may be -- rounds this out nicely, providing a moral sensibility to their claims. Now you're on their side, or you're on Satan's.

I remain concerned, too, about the ways in which leaseback financing threatens sensible sentencing reform in this country. There are currently counties in Texas who pay lobbyists to keep their prison beds filled - because they have debt to pay. It's fucked up, but, down here, when someone points out that we could maybe save a lot of money and suffering by not detaining every undocumented border-crosser, local governments are quick to protest that they need those bodies, they need the federal income, because they have a debt to pay.

Anonymous said...

Re: the prison industry--- you might find of interest a book by an ex-Miami patrol cop, ARREST-PROOF YOURSELF. I highly recommend it.