This country is broke. No, scratch that, we’re worse than broke. This country is mired in debt from which there is no likely escape.  The government just keeps digging deeper, but as a small business owner myself, I can tell you that falling down the rabbit hole is not the right answer. When you’re out of money, you bootstrap. You cut the budget from resources that are least productive.

What is the Federal Government’s least productive resource?  I believe that to be the prison system. Six out of ten federal prisoners will end up back in prison once released, and back on the taxpayer’s expense sheet.  If we’re trying to punish and teach our offenders into obeying the law, it’s just not working.

This failure is expensive.  Take this prison in Ashland, Kentucky, for example.

  • Rooms run about 60 square feet per person.
  • Inmates must take meals from a dining plan provided by a major corporation.
  • The air conditioning system is worn out.
  • The building has a bug problem.
  • Inmates have personal responsibilities during their stay.
  • There are chaplains on staff.
  • Possession of alcohol or drugs is a sanctionable offense – but inmates are usually willing to risk it.

Everything listed about Ashland was also true of my freshman dorm. Good ole’ Village C West was your standard freshman residence hall, and I met my best friends in that building. Suddenly our penitentiary system doesn’t seem quite so punishing, does it?

What is punishing is the fact that the private sector can run an elite university for cheaper than what the government pays to warehouse convicted criminals.  The average cost of keeping a prisoner in a federal center like Ashland is $19,802. Room and board at Georgetown? For an academic year, it costs $12,750. Factor in the cost of meals and health care – and you’re at about $15,500. Yes, security costs are lower at Georgetown than at a prison, but land rents are much higher, as GU is located in one of America’s wealthiest zip codes. Prisons, on the other hand, are typically located far from urban centers, for obvious reasons.

As with universities, there are two types of federal prisons: public and private.  So let’s see which does better.  A study done on Floridian ex-inmates to see if they returned to prison found that those who had been held in private prisons were significantly less likely to 1) be charged with a crime 2) be convicted of a crime and 3) return to prison to serve additional time.  Private prisons are the better option for inmates. Yet less than 5% of of American prisoners are held in private facilities.

With that sort of quality, and given that there are so few of them, private prisons must be an expensive commodity, right?  Wrong.  Private prisons let the free market determine wages. Those privately-earned wages are about $10,000 less per person per year than those of a public-sector employee.  Why have we not privatized all the federal prisons, then?  If you want to see a union label, look on the tags of Obama’s empty suit.  He’s tied to the unions and doesn’t have the McNuggets to stand them down and save our money.

The AFL-CIO has a division, the Association of Federal Government Employees, with over 270,000 members.  The AFL-CIO loves Obama, and the feeling is mutual.   He gives the union what it wants.   The unions staff his state-run prisons.  Privately-run prisons, however, do not have to contract with prison workers’ unions, so they don’t participate and save money.

Some people argue against private prisons, saying it is morally wrong to receive profit from locking people up. They think it’s wrong to have prisoners working (typical prison jobs include painting, plumbing, cleaning, and food preparation). Pro tip: If it’s shown on HGTV, it’s not cruel and unusual punishment. Some prisons now spend money on things like puppies, drama classes, and yoga classes for convicts.  So when they get out, and most likely continue to commit crimes, they can do so in a zen state and then lie in a more deceptive manner!  Brilliant!

  I know, Shia. You got a raw deal!

These people so concerned with human rights for convicts are usually the same people who have no problem with doctors benefiting from providing abortions. Let’s not get caught up in playing the game of “it’s only ethical if the liberals like it.” Private prisons carry out a service to society. As long as they carry out that service humanely, we ought to let them stay in business.

There is a common saying among inmates: “You do the time, or the time will do you.” It is time to think seriously about the psychological effects of incarceration. Some effects are probably healthy: One inmate, upon his release, remarked: “Who the #@%& is Justin Bieber?” The rest of us should be so lucky as to not know the tweenybopper spawn. Others are bad. For 95% of inmates, their only daily example of working people are the union workers who are their guards. What can we learn from unions? Band together so you can get away with more. If you ask for more, and do so in a mob, The Man will have to listen. This mentality is gang mentality; gang mentality has led thousands to commit crimes, and they wind up in prison.  Their time in prison ought not to be spent reinforcing the same lessons that got them there in the first place.

The more prisons closely approximate the real world, the real private sector meritocracy – where responsibilities are real and failure to fulfill them has consequences – the better we can teach inmates by example to be productive members of society.  I pitched the idea of a stripped down, inhumane prison to my Dad – “Dad, what do you think would happen if we stuck all the worst-of-the-worst criminals somewhere, gave them each a knife and said ‘Go fend for yourself’?” My Dad replied, “They already have a place like that, dear. It’s called New Jersey.”

 A harsh reality, indeed.

The fearless leader of the union guards, AFGE president Bryan Lowry, declares that doing more with less should end. That is the opposite of how bootstrapping works.  In this economy, everyone has to do more with less. If you’re good at your job, you should be able to do more with less. That’s how you save money and maximize productivity. Yet unions are all about doing less with more – about maintaining power by being the bigger gang – and that’s not what this country is about. We cannot let the unions influence the prisons in America because the prisoners are more likely to end up right back where they started.

Angela Morabito || Georgetown University || @_AngelaMorabito