When I saw that halfway houses were trending on Twitter last week, I almost started laughing. I didn’t know what the story was about, but I could take an educated guess. In case you missed it, the New York Times ran a series of pieces on the deplorable conditions at private New Jersey halfway houses. Then, Paul Krugman used the story to illustrate his
political agenda belief that prison privatization is bad.
I spent six months in a halfway house in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The living conditions were worse than prison. When it rained, the halfway house staff would break out a dozen five-gallon buckets to catch the rain water dripping through the ceiling and electrical wiring. We had two bathrooms for over 70 guys. And the owner liked to employ young twenty-something kids to staff the place (cheap labor), so at night while I tried to sleep, in order to be productive at my job the next day, the young staff were letting women, bottles of booze, and drugs in the front door.
Not exactly the best environment to make positive change.
I’ve had many friends spend time in halfway houses around the country. The majority of these halfway houses are privately owned. Not surprisingly, the people spending the time in those facilities don’t have much good to say, even though the only thing they have to compare it to is serving time in prison.
I’m usually a free market kind of guy. But prisons and halfway houses is one area where the government actually does a better job. And as Krugman notes:
But if you think about it even for a minute, you realize that the one thing the companies that make up the prison-industrial complex — companies like Community Education or the private-prison giant Corrections Corporation of America — are definitely not doing is competing in a free market. They are, instead, living off government contracts. There isn’t any market here, and there is, therefore, no reason to expect any magical gains in efficiency.
Companies such as CCA are getting rich not only on the misery of prisoners, but also on the tax dollars of every law abiding citizen. it is sickening. And unless people wake up, it will never stop.