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America's prisons are dangerously overcrowded, and the war on drugs is mainly to blame
Tennier lost the deal not to a private sector competitor, but to a corporation owned by the federal government, Federal Prison Industries.
Federal Prison Industries, also known as Unicor, does not have to worry much about its overhead. It uses prisoners for labor, paying them 23 cents to $1.15 an hour. Although the company is not allowed to sell to the private sector, the law generally requires federal agencies to buy its products, even if they are not the cheapest.
Although state laws regarding asset forfeiture vary, thanks to the practice known as “equitable sharing” local and state police keep up to 80 percent of the profits from selling off the property they seize from criminals, as long as federal law enforcement is involved in the case, however tangentially. And in civil forfeiture cases, like that of Caswell, the owner of the property’s guilt is not the issue debated—if the property was used for crimes, it can be seized. The Justice Department’s asset forfeiture fund was at $1.8 billion in 2011, and it gave away nearly half a billion dollars to local police departments. If the law changed, a lot of that money would disappear, and we all know how much government agencies cling to money. With rewards like that, who wouldn’t prioritize drug crime, when that’s the only kind of investigation that will bring in new patrol cars and help maintain expensive SWAT teams
But we need the war on drugs to keep our for profit prisons full. You know you have a problem when you expect to make money from people going to prison.