Because it’s your money you’re spending. ” The opportunities for savings, however, present potential dangers for inmates who must endure the possibility of compromised operating costs, or more explicitly, abuse at the hands of prison employees.  ~~~ The emergence of privately run and operated prisons is a championing of free market capitalism. As the discourses of profit and loss emerge in those of the proper modes of incarceration, the processes, functions, and goals of a business become the model of the prison institution’s success.
As prison businesses are seen as viable investments and marked as ethical societal gestures, as I will discuss below, the act of disciplining an imprisoned population mutates into a simple monetary transaction between the state and private entrepreneurs. Prisoners are no more than raw materials to be profited off of in a scenario that paints them as owing their lifeblood to a society they have purposely and maliciously acted against.
This transaction should be examined closely, for it reorients Foucault’s discussion of the ways in which disciplinary practices produce the very delinquency they are stationed to oversee. The noticeable shift, however, is that current disciplining practices, specifically the privately run penal apparatus, are positioned quite literally to produce both markets and a demand for illegality itself. Capital ventures are, of course, grounded in antagonism fueled by competition.
However, competition cannot properly earn a profit if it does not continuously increase its productive power. Consequently, prison industries are faced with the objective of expanding their own market shares (against one another), which thereby presses upon the demand for additional crime and criminal behavior. Therefore, the separation and distribution of inmates and their labor serve the goals of profit, guarded by a specific class in what is ultimately the production of crime and the sale of discipline. One might ask how this development becomes reasonable.
The rhetoric fueling privatization argues the inherent benefit of turning prison institutions into viable businesses is first and foremost the termination of wasteful taxation. The burden on taxpayers left with the “bill” for the punishment of a class of dispossessed individuals is duly unfair, and social body therefore has the right to make use of inmates in ways that set this imbalance right. “Today,” the journal Crime and Punishment in America states, “prison inmates are a huge drain on tax payers, despite the millions of available hours of healthy, prime-age labor they represent.
“ Prisoners, on this account, must first be viewed as potential work hours wasted and second as opportunities to produce “excess funds for their governments. “ The National center for Policy Analysis, a conservative government think-tank, echoes a similar sentiment: it is “Time to put prisoners to work. ” They ought to earn their keep claims the center, “So-called prison industries can help control costs, reduce recidivism rates and restore public faith in the justice system.
“ If renewing public support for the justice system is not a worthy enough goal then the celebration of independent market freedoms will suffice. For the most explicit argument on behalf of privatization interfaces the noble principles of free market economy upon the treatment of crime; it simply states that economic theory ought to determine our decisions about prison operation. Economic theory implies that if there were a formal market to buy, sell and rent prison cells, the problems of funding and efficiently allocating prison space would decrease.
And there are numerous ‘unexploited’ opportunities to reduce the net costs of prisons by creating factories behind bars, having prisoners earn their keep and compensating victims. The most promising ways to control taxpayers’ costs include privatizing prison construction and operation. Short of full privatization, government-operated correctional facilities could be corporatized and operated like private businesses.  Internal to the popularity of free market principles in the theorizing and practice of prison operation, lies the attraction of inmate work.
Hundreds of thousands of American prisoners work in prison industries, a term that defines several specific but connected enterprises: Federal and state prisons that employ inmates to manufacture goods for sale to both the government and the open market, and private firms that are contracted to hire prisoners for various services or labor. The value of hard labor has a long and animated history; its mythological powers have historically promised virtue, single-mindedness, and a regimented morality. Idleness, it has long been thought, poisons a man’s mind.
Work causes the heart and soul to be enlightened to the value of obedience, of discipline. “[Work] is a principle of order and regularity; through the demands that it imposes, it conveys imperceptibly, the forms of a rigorous power; it bends bodies to regular movements, it excludes agitation and distraction, it imposes a hierarchy and a surveillance that are all the more accepted and which will be inscribed all the more deeply in the behavior of the convicts in that they form part of its logic: with work ‘the rule is introduced into a prison, it reigns there without effort, without the use of any repressive and violent means.
‘” Foucault has noted that as early as 1808 work was regarded as the “religion of the prisons. ” In the act of penal labor, evils held within the body were replaced with a discipline, an order of moral virtue. The purely mechanical actions of the working body were said to reform that body and transform its soul so that violence, agitation and selfishness evanesced.
The industrial revolution was by no means unrelated to this focus on the merits of mechanical work, and the disciplinary action of machine like labor became the correction and the submission of convicts who were simply ignorant to the interior calm born from diligent and habitual labor. We see these same logics are operating today. Prison privatization is touted as a viable option not only because it is “cost effective” and operates according to a venerated capitalist political economy, but also because hard work–which is a featured aspect of privatization–is seen as a means to reform and rehabilitate.
Prisoners who work are presented as transforming their dysfunctional temperaments, actually calming the wild nature that disallows their harmonious functioning in society. But the question we must ask again is how does the exploitation of this labor force provide a means to the repression of offenses against the state, and how does it genuinely empower rehabilitation? A successful case cannot be made that proves inmate labor enables these objectives. Exploiting the work of prisoners will never be a “cure” for delinquency; at best it foments a desire to commit additional offenses.
As for rehabilitation, we must inquire about the type of reform we are actually suggesting. When we discuss rehabilitation are we not referring to attempts at the cultural rehabilitation of prison inmates–a reconditioning of a “breed” of disenfranchised and disabled citizens? In this sense we are not just reforming a class of lazy bodies unaware of the virtue of hard work, we are disciplining an “incompetent” culture, we are repairing a tribe of outlaws constructed as backward and broken.
Though these individuals are disqualified from full participation in the society in which they live, they are expected to serve its purposes and submit to the hegemony it asserts on “their behalf. ” Talk of rehabilitation, it must be acknowledged, is merely that which casts the outlaw underclass out of any truly participative societal position except those which serve the structural and organizational formation of intransigent class relations. “Outlaws” are a product of the panoptic society that must order all from top to bottom; inmate labor is the utility of a bottom position, the place of the unassimible.
The individual,” Foucault has claimed, is no doubt the fictitious atom of an ‘ideological’ representation of society; but he is also a reality fabricated by this specific technology of power that I have called ‘discipline. ‘ We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms: it ‘excludes,’ it ‘abstracts,’ it ‘masks,’ it ‘conceals. ‘ In fact, power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth.
The individual and the knowledge that may be gained of him belong to this production.  And so the ritual of truth to which this study has been devoted is that which demarcates a relatively new object emerging from the confluence of the discourses of free market capital and a muted but trenchant racism. This object is the salable black criminal body–a political prisoner, a commodified delinquent–and his discipline serves a panoptic principle that functions to elevate concepts of nation and democracy.
With perhaps the exception of slavery, never in the history of corporate investment has this body produced such an extensive capital venture. While privatization is justified by the urgency of budgetary concerns–we no longer can afford to feed and house the massive number of people we are sending off to our prisons–its organization must be understood to provide the means to simultaneously profit from the inculcation of docility and the production of crime.
Wrapped in this exigence is the assumption that there is no asylum from the assault of crime on society, it is a problem of “bad people” incapable–or perhaps unwilling–to live within the bounds of lawful probity. The truths that continue to be circulated in order for privatization to gain momentum are that we need additional cells to eradicate the rampant crime in our cities, that penality is the proper response to illegality, that there exists a dangerous class whose cultural pathology must be neutralized; and, that prison is the means by which that objective is secured.
As incarceration takes on an economic function, the control of the prison labor force and the penal apparatus that supports it will eclipse not only inventive policies that take as their starting point the current economic and social disenfranchisement of African Americans (and others), but also the–nearly absent–issue of true prison rehabilitation. Measures that genuinely reduce crime, recidivism rates, and enable imprisoned citizens to recover their dignity, self-respect and capacity to live well will not be “productive investments” under these circumstances.
Officials in the business of privatization are confident in the continuing volume of incoming inmates today: “I don’t think we have to worry about running out of product,” a warden working for CCA recently remarked. But what are the possibilities for the future? We need only imagine a slowdown in the amount of bodies serviced by the criminal justice system to surmise the worst: lobbying mechanisms designed to push for legislation that might antagonize the demand for additional “product.
” It is here we see most clearly capitalist market forces dominating the panoptic principle. Corporate institutions whose national and global powers are the primary factors in production, trade, and retail operation are changing the modes and characteristics of discipline and regulation. This discipline serves to distributes bodies, practices, and relations in ways that enable the further accumulation of capital.
The domain in which this total control is articulated is the geography of commerce–the sale, quite literally, of the politically invested body. Foucault has argued that the economic success of this country is due to the coordination of just these two processes: “[T]he accumulation of men and the accumulation of capital cannot be separated; it would not have been possible to solve the problem of the accumulation of men without the growth of an apparatus of production capable of both sustaining them and using them…
“ The orderly utilization of a collection of men has ensured the power of a ruling class and the asymmetrical flow of profits from their disciplined labor. That such conditions thrive in the United States is testament to the exploitation of a specific class and the successful coercion of men by the minute and detailed disciplinary measures of the panoptic society. The private corporation, as it assumes the direct control of the prison institution, further concretizes a contract between the subject, discipline, and capital.
It removes an insulation that makes plain the relationship between political division and monetary regulation. Ultimately the growing prominence of the private corporation as the custodial mechanism of disciplinary control signals transformations in the carceral system. In short, those transformations threaten to heighten the threshold of tolerance to both penal control and the commodification of the delinquent body.