By Richard Branson
A New York Times op-ed drew our attention to a remarkable piece of journalism from the Times-Picayune, the big paper in the American state of Louisiana. The eight-part series chronicles how Louisiana became the prison capital of America, and therefore of the world.
Prison in America has shockingly come to echo the days of slave plantations. Like cotton and sugarcane operations, prisons now make profits by taking away people’s liberty. In Louisiana, the series says, three drug convictions can land someone in prison for life, two car robberies can earn 24 years. Each of those prisoners is a long-term cash cow for the owners of private prisons (many of whom are also local sheriffs according to the series). Rehabilitation leading to release would just take away the per-prisoner revenue. So “inmates subsist in bare-bones conditions with few programs to give them a better shot at becoming productive citizens.”
No wonder “Louisiana's incarceration rate is nearly triple Iran's, seven times China's and 10 times Germany's” - in most societies, locking people up is costly. In America, it’s profitable. It is perverse, dehumanizing and devastating communities. If we want to do some good through privatization, why not privatize rehabilitation with bonuses for successful reintegration of inmates who don’t re-offend? Then private sector creativity would be channeled to help rather than bleed society.