Commentary: Push to privatize some prison services

Apr 19, 2012

Reporters were caught off base yesterday when they learned that Governor Rick Snyder was not in Lansing as they thought, but in Afghanistan, visiting the troops. The secrecy was understandably needed for security reasons, and the trip is the sort of morale-boosting thing that governors and other state officials traditionally do.

But it was very telling when the governor reported on what the soldiers wanted to talk about. Besides the surging Detroit Tigers and fading Red Wings, the chief thing on their minds seemed to be jobs.

And the governor has to know that many of those who enlisted certainly might not have done so if jobs had been plentiful at home.

Well, the governor certainly feels that he is doing everything he can to create jobs, or at least to lay the foundation for the private sector to create them. The governor doesn’t seem to be overly religious, but he does seem to share in one article of faith common to nearly all Republicans. They see private sector jobs as good, and public sector jobs as bad. That’s something I don’t quite understand.

Yesterday in the legislature, Republicans on the state appropriations committee were wrestling with the proposed state budget -- and worshiping at the altar of the privatization gods.

They are even more gung ho for eliminating government jobs than is the governor. For example, House Republicans are suddenly proposing closing the Michigan Reformatory Prison in Ionia, and sending the inmates to a privately run facility.

The Department of Corrections is against this. They feel they have enough beds, and that a closure isn’t needed.

Democratic lawmakers asked if anyone had given any consideration to the potentially devastating economic impact closing this prison would have on the surrounding community. The Republican response was short, if not too sweet: We don’t care.

State Representative Greg MacMaster of Kewadin said, “It’s not the government’s job to employ people. Those prisons weren’t built for the puroose of hiring people,” and creating jobs.

Republicans want to take this even further by closing all three of the state’s juvenile justice facilities and sending the seriously messed-up kids in them to private prison operators.

The Department of Human Services opposes this. Representative Rashida Tlaib of Detroit predicted that the state would be sued for not taking proper care of these children.

Republicans more or less sneered at her, essentially saying that what mattered was not proper care, but doing things as cheaply as possible. Democrats, by the way, have essentially no power in the legislature these days.

What I find interesting, however, is that Republicans, including Governor Snyder, almost never call for cuts to the largest and most socialistic government agency there is. It employs millions, sucks up hundreds of billions of our tax dollars every year, and kills people.

You may have heard of it; it is called the U.S. military, the same one Governor Snyder visited yesterday. There is general agreement that it works pretty well, though it is as socialist an operation as you can imagine. The potential for serious cost-cutting here is enormous.

What baffles me, however, is that I have yet to hear one federal, state or local call for privatizing the army. If anyone can help me understand this, I‘d really like to know.