Is California Replacing Its 'Prison-Industrial Complex' With Something Worse?

Authored by Sarah Cronin via,

California made headlines last week when Governor Jerry Brown allocated a record $11.4 billion to the state’s corrections department in his May Revision to the budget, translating to $75,560 per individual — the highest per-inmate cost in the nation.

Media outlets ran amok with headlines comparing the costs of imprisonment to tuition at the country’s premier private university.

That’s enough to cover the annual cost of attending Harvard University and still have plenty left over for pizza and beer,” quipped Don Thompson of the Associated Press.

Yet in consideration of decreasing prison populations and statewide ‘reforms,’ this five-figure sum is more alarming than amusing.

Since 2006, California’s inmate population has gone down by nearly a quarter, due in part to a Supreme Court mandate that found conditions in California’s notoriously overcrowded prisons to be ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’ The inmate population further declined after California passed a proposition in 2014 that reduced sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders. Still, the annual corrections budget has continued to increase, with current costs now double what they were in 2005.

But the very same budget report that allocates $11.3 billion to corrections also predicts an additional population decrease of 11,500 inmates over the next four years.

So what gives?

Part of the answer, at least, comes down to prison unions.

It’s an example of how powerful public-sector unions keep the state from getting spending under control, even when the need for such spending plummets,” wrote Steven Greenhut in an op-ed for the California Policy Center.

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) is one of the most powerful public sector unions in the state. In an article shared on the Prison Activist Resource Center, writer Tim Kowell tracked CCPOA’s massive legacy of influence in a timeline spanning over 50 years.

This includes a $2 million dollar campaign contribution that the CCPOA made to Brown’s gubernatorial bid in 2010, reportedly by funneling the money into independent campaign expenditures. This, says, made Brown “Prisoner of the Guards Union.”

If the union has Brown in a bind, it could explain why correctional officers in California are the second-highest paid in the nation (the first is New Jersey), earning an average of $70,020/year.

That’s more than the average salary of an assistant professor with a PhD at the University of California,” Kowell noted.

It’s no wonder, then, that incarceration costs are beginning to resemble the tuition fees of a top-tier university.

Further, as the Associated Press reported, California Correctional Peace Officers Association are currently negotiating the details of a contract that would cost taxpayers more than $1 billion over the next three years.

Nichol Gomez, spokeswoman for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association Union, says the extra funds are needed for special programming.

Vocational, academic, mental health and medical programs are not cheap, but we’re doing our best to provide programs that give people the best chance to succeed once released,” she said in an interview with the Associated Press.

California Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer, who also spoke with the AP, backed Gomez’s claims, attributing the increasing cost to “unique pressures,” such as prison healthcare and remote prisons.

What Palmer and Gomez are describing is consistent with a trend in recent years that has states investing more money in reform and rehabilitation than in prisons themselves. This has lead to the corporate privatization of these social services in what is now being called the “treatment-industrial complex.”

The treatment-industrial complex is similar in theory to the well-known prison-industrial complex. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) has explained that the financial incentive for private prison corporations is to keep people in custody or under some form of supervision for as long as possible at the highest per diem rate possible in order to maximize profits.

The difference between the two is that instead of privatized carceral facilities, the treatment-industrial complex leads to outsourced social services, including privatized treatment centers and halfway houses.

The main players in the treatment-industrial complex are the very same ones involved in the for-profit prison industry. They are corporations like GEO Group, the second-largest private correctional facilities provider in the U.S. In recent years, they have strategically shifted their focus toward prison alternatives.

As the AFSC reports:

“In 2010, GEO Group acquired BI Incorporated, which makes electronic monitoring products, including GPS ankle bracelet monitors, voice verification technology, and alcohol monitors for individuals on home confinement. The company boasts of its newly reorganized ‘Community Services’ unit, which operates halfway houses, day reporting centers, and juvenile detention facilities. This segment represented 20% of GEO Group’s operations in 2012.”

According to their website, Geo Group owns 101 ‘Residential Reentry” “Day Reporting” facilities nationwide. California alone houses 23 of these sites, the most of any state.

As Politico reported last March, California is one of 25 states that contracts some or all of their correctional health care to private companies.

In last year’s Budget Act, California put aside $25 million for a community-based transitional housing program that “encourages cities and counties to support transitional housing that provides treatment and reentry programming to offenders released from the criminal justice system, and to any other persons who the applicant city or county believes may benefit.

Notably, Brown’s May revision to the program asserts that “there is no limit on the amount the city or county may provide the facility operator.”

For corporations like Geo Group, this means that ‘rehabilitation’ is turning out to be a lucrative business.

As Michelle Chen of The Nation writes:

“On principle, reducing incarceration is necessary and just. But some activists fear private-sector solutions might pervert prison reform into a neoliberal variation of convict leasing, in which industry and state collude to ‘redeem” society’s undesirables.’”

In terms of the costs to taxpayers, criminal justice analyst Drew Soderborg told the Associated Press that [r]eal savings won’t come unless the inmate population drops so low that the state can start closing prisons.

Yet within so many vested interests involved in keeping correctional facilities open, that reality seems far-fetched. Even if prisons were to be shut down, the treatment-industrial complex indicates that the next iteration of for-profit prison institutions is already here, and they are already taking our money.


JRobby HRH Feant2 Thu, 06/15/2017 - 08:53 Permalink

Here's a catch: This Nation Jails Persons With Addiction Disorders. Then charges them $4k to $12k in fees to "Watch and "Coach" Them To Make Sure They Act Right and Don't Relapse".This is a $10 billion / year industry and growing rapidly.You see, when the cartels export your job and the TV & GOVT tells you everything is great, people and families have a tendency to fall apart with addiction being a big driver. So yea, this "business model" is booming. 

In reply to by HRH Feant2

Tiwin migra Thu, 06/15/2017 - 07:44 Permalink

Great talking point you obvious republican retard. One sex change operation in an 11 B budget.Like one penny to a thousand dollars.But hey , it sounds soo good. How does the virtue signalling make you feel?Youre no different than a SanFran fag screaming for gay rights.A partisan virtue signaller. And yes , fuck the train to nowhere. 

In reply to by migra

SoDamnMad blueyefinity@y… Thu, 06/15/2017 - 04:27 Permalink

Silicon Valley can afford it. They are all rich.Tell me why Kevin Cooper hasn't had his execution after killing the Chino Valley family in 1983?  If these horrible criminals commit these hedious crimes then at $75,000 a year, the public is on the hook for ... OMG.  The reason he is still alive.  Muchof the evidence that overwhelmingly convicted him has been lost.  And the 9th Circuit Court (those guys who let terrorists in from the ME) feels we need to start all over and retry Kevin. On the morning of June 5, 1983, Bill Hughes arrived at a semi-rural home in Chino Hills, California where his 11-year-old son Christopher had spent the night. Inside, he found Douglas and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter Jessica and his own son dead. They had been chopped with a hatchet, sliced with a knife, and stabbed with an ice-pick. Josh Ryen, the 8-year-old son of Douglas and Peggy, had survived. His throat had been cut. Mrs. Ryen's purse was in plain sight on the kitchen counter, but no money had been taken. The family station wagon was gone; it was discovered several days later in Long Beach, California, about 50 miles southwest of Chino Hills.

In reply to by blueyefinity@y…

. . . _ _ _ . . . BeepBeepRichie Thu, 06/15/2017 - 02:52 Permalink

"semi-factories"Doesn't mean they can't be paid to do it. Not slavery per say, but yes, I agree it does open up another can of worms. A 'lock-em-up-to-put-them-to-work' mentality is not something I advocate. That would inevitably lead to abuse and exploitation, but there could be a middle ground somewhere. Prisoners already make stuff, don't they? It's a legitimate point, it would act as another level of deterrence, and is something to consider, nonetheless... but only if the system was purely governmental. A private system could not work this way, at any level. Repayment of crimes to the state can take many forms is all I'm saying here. It would certainly make for an interesting debate. My question is, how would that be different than community service?

In reply to by BeepBeepRichie

Lea migra Thu, 06/15/2017 - 06:12 Permalink

Your advocacy of prison labor, aka slavery, makes you miss a YUGE point: every job they do for free is one less paid job for you, "free" citizens.Look, it's great for them: these workers do, at no cost, the same you would for a wage. You cannot compete. See why the USA has the highest incarceration rate in the world? And why its unemployment rate has gone through the roof? It's connected."Make America Great Again" is a cruel joke. I'd call it f... cking over you suckers while resting assured you will love it and demand more, and longer incarceration rates, i.e, yet more profits for them and more unemployment for you. Swindling utter suckers like you is easier than stealing candy from a toddler.

In reply to by migra

MedicalQuack Thu, 06/15/2017 - 02:15 Permalink

Yeah let's talk California rehab:)FBI raids Sovereign Health rehab chain's sites across Southern California… some Southern California drug rehab centers exploit addiction, good article and worth the long read.… yeah, rehab for everyone, right?  This has been so abused in Orange County.  

JRobby MedicalQuack Thu, 06/15/2017 - 08:57 Permalink

This Nation Jails Persons With Addiction Disorders. Then charges them $4k to $12k in fees to "Watch and "Coach" Them To Make Sure They Act Right and Don't Relapse".This is a $10 billion / year industry and growing rapidly.You see, when the cartels export your job and the TV & GOVT tells you everything is great, people and families have a tendency to fall apart with addiction being a big driver. So yea, this "business model" is booming. 

In reply to by MedicalQuack

wow thats crazy Thu, 06/15/2017 - 02:33 Permalink

Free market don't you love it! Corporate power for profit!! Education, Prison, and health care should never be a private industry!! There might be one or two more things but I can't think of it!

. . . _ _ _ . . . Thu, 06/15/2017 - 02:36 Permalink

"Still, the annual corrections budget has continued to increase, with current costs now double what they were in 2005."That's 'only' a 5.83% rate of growth over twelve years, no matter what happens with the prison population's numbers. Not quite as shocking as the article makes it appear. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that that doesn't mean it's too expensive. Just pointing something out is all.Just be glad it hasn't gotten to the point where we have a Serco to run things, like in the UK. Now that's some evil shite right there.

. . . _ _ _ . . . Yen Cross Thu, 06/15/2017 - 04:06 Permalink

I am used to acronyms, I just don't happen to know all of them (especially the 3-letter ones that can mean any number of things.)I never said you were my friend... 'cause I called you Yen? What the fuck are you on about?Don't need an alarm clock, I'll still be up, not that that has anything to do with being smart, or your version of it.How can I conflate when I don't know what you mean? You could save us both a lot of time and trouble if you just explain yourself.It looks like you're trying to pick a fight. Stop being vague and tell me what you mean if you want an answer from me.

In reply to by Yen Cross