A Very Good Call

According to a recent article in the Indianapolis Star, part of Mayor Hogsett’s plans for a new criminal justice center includes terminating the city’s contract with a private prison company.

The mayor’s criminal justice reform task force has recommended that the Marion County Sheriff’s Department take over all operations for the proposed jail at the site of the former Citizens Energy coke plant, 2950 Prospect St. That means the county would end a decades-long contract with CoreCivic, formerly called Corrections Corp. of America.

There is a lot to applaud in the Mayor’s plan–especially the extent to which it recognizes the degree to which the criminal justice system has operated as a very unfortunate substitute for a functional mental health system. But the termination of the city’s contract with CoreCivic is particularly welcome. As the Mayor noted, the move will actually save the city money, but those savings are simply “icing on the cake.”

Beyond savings, the Hogsett administration wants to move away from a private operation model that has drawn fire from criminal justice reform advocates.

“First and foremost, that’s the job of our elected sheriff — to be responsible for the care and security of inmates,” said Andy Mallon, corporation counsel for the city. “That promotes accountability with public officials and transparency, whereas when you have a privately run jail, all of that gets transferred by a contract to a private, profit-driven company. We don’t think at this point we should be providing profits for jailing (inmates).”

The bottom line is–or should be–that there are some functions that government should rarely or never contract out, and incarceration is one of them. Giving private, profit-seeking enterprises authority to exercise the coercive power of the state is an invitation to abuse, and research has consistently found such abuse in the private prison industry. When the focus is on the fiscal bottom line, rather than public safety or offender rehabilitation, it isn’t surprising that such institutions save money by skimping on inmate’s meals or medical care, or that they are more abusive, violent, and dangerous than their government-run counterparts.

More insidious, however, is the effect of profit-making prisons on public policy. The companies that operate these prisons donate large sums to political figures, and spend significantly on lobbyists, and they aren’t just trying to curry favor with agencies that may award contracts. They are trying to influence criminal justice policy, arguing for laws that impose harsher and longer punishments and against efforts to decriminalize behaviors like marijuana use.

Criminal justice policies should be based upon their considered effects on public safety–not upon the profitability of politically-connected companies.

Mayor Hogsett has made a very good call.


  1. WE must follow up Mayor Hogsett’s “Very Good Call” by making one of our own…do all we can to assure he is reelected to carry out this endeavor and others he has begun. In this Republican state; he needs our continuing support, I saved my “Hogsett For Mayor” yard sign to reuse!

  2. I have blogged on this penal privatization before and the language of Sheila and Andy Mallon sounds as though they’re plagiarasing my efforts. Just kidding. . . It is refreshing to see the de-privatizing of what should have been a public duty all along. I was especially angry in my blog at the use of taxpayer money by privatizers in lobbying state legislatures to increase time in jail for petty offenses which had nothing to do with “letting the punisment fit the crime” and lot to do with the privatizers’ bottom lines. As thus emboldened, let’s take our market back from the moneychangers and crapshooters with regulatory control that looks to the public interest. Meanwhile, kudos to the mayor!

  3. A breath of fresh air compared to the usual topics of discussion involving policy in Indiana. Now, what can our General Assembly, Governor, US Congress and POTUS do to screw up Joe’s plans?

  4. It is, indeed, a very good call. It is also a repudiation of what is happening on the federal level with Mr. Sessions at the helm of the Justice Department. Despite all of the research, he is charging full steam into the past. He intends to increase the use of private prisons as he ramps up the war on drugs, the war on immigrants, and the war on crime.

  5. I wonder how the state legislature will manage to defeat Hogsett’s initiative? Maybe they will seize control of Indianapolis along with Muncie’s schools?

  6. I can’t imagine that anyone would accuse Republican politicians of privatizing what should be government responsibilities. They’re guilty, but I can’t imagine anybody accusing them of it.

  7. “As the Mayor noted, the move will actually save the city money, “
    Apparently I’m missing something here. I’ve been under the impression for years that the reason for using these private companies for this stuff was because it saved the city (county, state, whatever) money. How could it have taken 10, 20, 30 or more years to figure this out.

  8. If I recall right it was Gold$mith who brought CCA in to begin with.

    Harrison Ullman at Nuvo called Indiana’s Legislation the World’s Worst in the past, and they ain’t done.

    The Indiana Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists calls upon state lawmakers to reject House Bill 1523, a bill that would let state and local government agencies charge up to $20 per hour to fulfill requests for public records that take more than two hours to find. With the language in HB1523, the Public will be at the mercy of slow computer equipment, inadequate training, poor search techniques, flawed database structure, and other aspects outside of their control.

  9. Kudos to the Mayor. Now let’s turn to the threats of World War III which seem to me to be originating with The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight

  10. Most public employees are able to underbid a private for profit company if the process is thorough and fair. I suggest making that process thorough and fair be the goal of each and every level of government attempting to establish or perpetuate privatization. That means every government function from street cleaning to education and even healthcare. We will probably have to wait for the revolution to get this done.

  11. As a Libertarian I tend to support privatization per se unless the operation cannot correctly function in private hands. (i.e. we don’t rent out aircraft carriers). Locally it seems that we have more cronyism than privatization, with mixes (such as sports stadiums and jails) that combine the worst of both genres. We hope that a new jail functions better than the previous iterations. Of course, as a Libertarian, we are in the forefront of reducing incarceration, regardless of who does the work.

  12. It’s a great concept but is it a Superfund site? It’s a coke site. Nasty stuff. Probably why they got a good deal on the land.

  13. Off of the subject of today’s blog but…Trump either forgot who he bombed last week or tried to take credit for Bush’s war in Iraq. We are in deeper s*+t than we thought!

    Hope you all see the interview before the GOP can delete all films; of course this should make for a really interesting daily press conference for Sean Spicer!

  14. Spicer only needs to hang on a little longer before Fox or some other right wing news outlet recruits him to cash in on the big money, like that paragon of virtue and fighter for America Bill O’Reilly, who has just announced that he is taking a “vacation,” one that could be and I hope a permanent one.

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