Not exactly the Park Plaza

!>!: Igor sent me a link to a _Times_ article reported from my home town that discusses pay prisons in California as an alternative to standard prison for people convicted of non-violent crime and wililng to pony up for their stay. It is no picnic, but the advantage is clean cells, the ability to bring an iPod, and in some cases the possiblity of working at your normal job during the day and then returning to prison in the evening.

While I didn’t know about this specific program, it doesn’t entirely surprise me, and is actually sort of neat. California is well known for massively overcrowded jails, (more) unsanitary (than usual) conditions, a prison medical system that is dysfunctional, and a major problem on its hands. Much of this can be traced to our three strikes law, as well as the “war” on some drugs.

These problems are not new, and are covered constantly in the state’s news media. American RadioWorks ran an excellent show, Corrections, Inc. as part of their “Lock-Up Society” series, on the business of prisons, featuring a segment on California’s situation.

The prison problem has led to a lot of interesting approaches. The most straightforward, of course, is to build more prisons, or simply release more prisoners and shorten stays (err, sentences). Slightly outside the box is the idea of attempting to rehabilitate drug offenders through treatment programs, something we have generally shunned because we believe in prison as punishment, not remediation, but there are some programs taking this approach. Lately a lot of private prisons have sprouted, offering to outsource management and lower costs. For them, business is booming. And more recently still, a drive to encourage prisoners to transer to out-of-state private prisons, something that can’t be forced on them but can be encouraged through the use of perks, has become all the rage.

!_Snow Crash_, in which everyone lives in private “burbclaves” with hired security, roads are operated by FairLanes, Inc., the country’s chief (and only) exports are music, movies, software, and high-speed pizza delivery, and, of course, there are two prison chains, one a nicer (and more expensive) operation than the other.

There is really no one I can praise here. The prison problem is ridiculous. The inability of California’s voters and legislators to deal with the problem by making actual tough choices about how law enforcement should be run is equally ridiculous. And private industry’s contributions are an odd “solution” to a problem that shouldn’t exist in the first place. But as a quasi-liberal with closeted libertarian tendencies, I sorta chuckle at the whole arrangement, even while being a bit disgusted. Private industry always finds a way.

Overhead image of prisoner in cell licensed under Creative Commons Attribution by !borghetti. Image of dancing prisoner is in the public domain and was taken by Jack Delano.