Wednesday, April 7, 2010
I promised yesterday that I'd do a little mewling about American justice today. The reason for my interest in the subject matter at this particular juncture in my life is that I spent last weekend in jail in El Paso County, Colorado. I was picked up on a warrant from five years ago alleging "Failure to Appear" as a new charge over an old case. The appearance in question involved an incident for which I stood in Judge Stephen Sletta's courtroom, heard a sentence, and served it out--five years ago. It took most of a week for the players involved to ascertain the explanation just proffered above to be true, and now I am loose. Sletta absolved his court, and the system in general, of any responsibility in the matter by stating that I should have notified his office of my earlier compliance, and that I had failed in my "ordinary responsibility as an adult" when I did not execute this notification, even though it had been specifically stated in that earlier appearance that all was handled, and I had no further responsibility.
So you understand, if you are reading, that my motivation for promising an earful today was largely a matter of angst, and little more. The thing that happened to me just now was an error though, and I don't know how an attack on the system could do anything at all to rectify errors. I'd have been happier if Sletta had at minimum proffered an apology, and maybe even a piece of paper to back my assertion that this faux pas was not of my own doing. It would have been nice to have something in writing to offer my now former employer to show them I didn't simply walk away from my job for a week. Neither of these concessions have been forthcoming, though, and in a way this does serve to illustrate one part of the multitude of interwoven problems extant in "justice" here in our country, or at least in El Paso County.
In a 2005 Economist article, John Ferguson, CEO of Correction Corp. of America, (CCA), the country's largest private prison administration company, advocates for his industry's takeover of the incarceration business, (The Prophet of Prison, Economist; 9/3/2005, Vol. 376 Issue 8442, p58-58). He trots out the well worn argument that competition is always a good thing for the market, and that his company can always operate more efficiently than the government, in any context. The entire discussion at hand in the article is summed up by this consideration, from par. 5: "Critics complain that a private company will inevitably treat prisoners simply as inventory. But Mr Ferguson responds that prisons--like any other public service--can be improved by competition and flexibility." Any third grade reader can point out that, though competition and flexibility may well be admirable and beneficial traits in any enterprise or market, Mr. Ferguson has entirely sidestepped the concern of the general milieu of critics cited.
The mission of any business, corporate or otherwise, is to make a profit. In spite of Ferguson's description of various administrative cost-cutting measures, all admirable, the fact remains that inmates in his prisons are inventory. Each of those human bodies represents a fee from whatever government body is contracting CCA's services. One might imagine any defense by a guy like Ferguson to the contrary to be superfluous to begin with, but he offers none, (I suppose this may be to his credit, or at least to the credit of his subconscious mind), but rather prefers to shift ground.
What does this have to do with El Paso County, one may ask. Time has prevented prompt posting of this little tirade, and the more remote the basis for it grows, the greater the disconnect feels in my mind. The "Criminal Justice Center," (CJC), here is not a contract jail; it's administered by the county. A casual examination of the mechanics of the thing leaves the impression that only the food is farmed out to an outside party, Aramark, an esteemed corporation whose official website is loaded with notation of awards and recognition of its great ethical standard, and whose tentacles hold strong market position in all manner of industry including education, health care, and, (pertinent here), food service. In spite of the adulation of business peers, the fact remains that prisoners at CJC in El Paso County, CO are provided "meals" that would likely make the rice-boilers at an average Chinese prison cringe. Aramark happily supplements their hopelessly inadequate nutritional offerings with junk food, available at a ridiculous premium through the CJC "commissary." (Hmm. Interesting to note the association inherent to the term with "commissar", but Aramark is a fascist outfit, not communist).
This is, no doubt, whining. But it is, I promise, germane. The point I'll be revisiting in a later post is that money is a far, far to big an elephant in the room for any conversation on American jurisprudence to proceed without addressing it.