Inmates aren’t people; they’re fungible assets

For those who believe that shipping prison inmates to distant for-profit prisons is immoral (human rights), unconstitutional (judge’s decision, uncontested), or simply counterproductive (isolation may lead to recidivism), this week brought just a little bit of good news courtesy of the soon-to-depart Laura Krantz at VTDigger.

After bringing home a few dozen inmates this week, Vermont has roughly 360 inmates in a Kentucky prison and another 40 in Arizona — the lowest number in a decade.

With the good news came some bad: a provision in Vermont’s contract with the Corrections Corporation of America imposes penalties if the inmate population falls below 380. We are now very close to that figure.

Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito admits that the provision creates a disincentive for Vermont to bring more prisoners home, even if there’s space in state prisons.

Then came the Governor’s budget address on Thursday. One of the revenue upgrades is $1.7 million from the lease of 60 inmate beds to the U.S. Marshals.

Hmmm. A lower inmate population could trigger higher payments to CCA… but now we’re leasing five dozen beds, putting the squeeze on in-state prison space… Hey presto: Synergy! We save money on CCA and we make money from the U.S. Marshals.

Fiscally, it’s a win-win.

If you don’t mind treating your inmates like commodities instead of human beings.

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