Experts in autocracies have pointed out that it is, unfortunately, easy to slip into normalizing the tyrant, hence it is important to hang on to outrage. These incidents which seem to call for the efforts of the Greek Furies (Erinyes) to come and deal with them will, I hope, help with that. Even though there are many more which I can’t include. As a reminder, though no one really knows how many there were supposed to be, the three names we have are Alecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone. These roughly translate as “unceasing,” “grudging,” and “vengeful destruction.”
Heaven knows there are petty little things I could be including here, like the 11-year-old black girl who was arrested and handcuffed by police who had a warrant for a 40-year-old white woman (yes, you read that right, and I am not making it up). Or like the woman in Walnut Creek who raised a stink in Starbucks because two other patrons were “speaking Oriental” (did you know that was a language? I didn’t. Ummmm… I still don’t.) But, instead, I want to bring up good old Core Civic.
Core Civic, you may remember, is the new (in 2016) name for what used to be Corrections Corporation of America. In other words, private prisons. well, private prison corporations have been seeing some handwriting on the wall for a while. The push to legalize marijuana is gaining steam, and the more states it is legal in, the more the prison populations in those states will go down. The other big private prison provider, GEO Group, has been expanding to non-prison services such as ankle monitors, halfway houses, substance abuse treatment, and the like.
But several years ago, both competitors changed their status on paper so that both are now real estate companies – technically, Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs). This has allowed them
to score a massive tax break. In 2015 alone, the corporations used their REIT status and other avenues to avoid a combined $113 million in federal income taxes.
But Core Civic is taking their REIT status beyond paper and into the real world.
In September, the publicly traded corporation that owns and operates prisons, jails, immigration detention centers, and halfway houses bought properties in North Carolina and Georgia that are leased to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Social Security Administration (SSA).
In their words, the deals are part of a plan to make “additional investment via acquisition in mission-critical government real estate asset classes outside of our traditional correctional detention residential reentry facilities.”
In other words, CoreCivic wants to be a landlord of all types of government buildings.
They’ve almost got Kansas convinced to let them build and maintain a new prison that they can lease to the public, despite it being the more expensive way to go. (emphasis mine)
I see this as a move from completely despicable theft of public funds into plain old ordinary graft. Some might say that is less malignant – but every public dollar that goes to them is one less to be spent on actual governing, and actually providing what our communities really need. One more dollar that goes into killing people instead of keeping people alive.
Alecto, it would seem to me to make sense to start in Kansas, if indeed it can be done cheaper without them. A state reduced to selling sex toys to supplement the budget doesn’t need to be throwing money around. On the other hand, a state that dumb may never listen. You know your job and do it well, I won’t try to micromanage.
The New Mexico Political Report frequently concerns itself with matters of New Mexico polirics. But, when it takes on national issues, it takes them on well. A case in point is an article this week regarding mandatory federal sentencing, derived from work by ProPublica.
During Ronald Reagan’s first term (I’ll bet you all see red lights already),
Congress identified what it said was a grave threat to the American promise of equal justice for all: Federal judges were giving wildly different punishments to defendants who had committed the same crimes.
In 1984, Congress created the U.S. Sentencing Commission, with bipartisan support we could only dream of today. The commission set firm sentencing rules (called “guidelines”) for every Federal offense.
In 1989, the case Mistretta v U.S. came before the Supreme Court. Mistretta and the government both petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari before judgment, and the Court took the case. The issue was: Was Congress’s creation of a United States Sentencing Commission (with the power to establish binding sentencing “guidelines”) constitutional?
This was the Rehnquist court. Thurgood Marshall was still alive, Sandra Day O’Connor was on this Court. Justice (Harry) Blackmun gave the opinion for the majority.
The Court held that, as society increases in complexity, Congress must delegate authority “under broad general directives.” The broad delegation of power to the Commission was undoubtedly “sufficiently specific and detailed to meet constitutional requirements.”
The only dissenter was Antonin Scalia.
If Scalia was right, as new evidence suggests he MAY have been, it will of course have been for the wrong reasons.
Mistretta was a momentous decision, but it’s now clear the high court relied on evidence that was flimsy and even flat-out wrong.
The Court used one study based on two reports from the early seventies. The two reports appear to have been riddled with errors. “Average” sentences cited for a district in which there had only been one case of the kind supposedly being “averaged.” Other averages computed with mathematical errors.
The existence of the commission led to sentencing increases caused by fewer defendants being granted probaton. And the creation of sentencing “enhancements” (think the opposite of “mitigation”) also increased sentences.
In the ten years since 1984, when the Commission was created, and 1995, the Federal prison population went from just over 40,000 to over 100,000 – an increase of 150%.
It also hasn’t helped that once Congress had created the Commission, and the Court had decided it was Constitutional, Congress failed to leave it alone to do its job. It was Congress which made the punishments for crack cocaine convictions a hundred times more severe than those for powder cocaine. The Commission more than once tried without success to get Congress to back off.
Megaera and Tisiphone, I fear we have gotten ourselves into an imposssible position. We desperately need sentencing reform – we need it at all levels of our multiple judicial systems. But I also admit the thought of giving any more power to judges who are now being appointed scares the bejeebus out of me. I won’t even try to tell you what to do.
The Furies and I will be back.
Cross posted to Care2 HERE.