It’s a legitimate question. At first glance, bail reform simply seems like the “cause du jour,” and one that big companies, celebrities, and non-profits will glom onto for a couple days or weeks before moving on to the next “cool cause.” Sure, there are a handful of principled players involved – the ACLU, and others. But most are simply getting on a soapbox to declare their support for whatever cause will gain them popularity and trust in the zeitgeist.
An article in The Nation, however, points to a different class altogether. This is the group that can only be described as “Big Philanthropy.” Michelle Chen, at The Nation, wonders aloud (or in words), why such forces as the Koch Foundation, among others, are jumping on this particular bandwagon? Is it a legitimate concern, or is there a darker, more nefarious reason at play?
Charles Koch Institute and Private Prison
Turns out that Koch probably has his eye on something else entirely. While a bit of libertarianism could go a long way in a country overly-dominated by big government, labor, religion, etc., there is a certain taint to Koch’s particular brand, i.e. – it’s tied specifically to his own designs for private-industry prisons.
The transition from state-run to private-sector interventions troubles some progressive groups, who seek a human rights-based, holistic approach to public safety. Progressive reformers argue that “community corrections” parallels prison privatization, as both “solutions” empower private security to replace state institutions, often with fewer regulations, more profit motives, and potentially poorer-quality services. Investments in the “treatment industrial complex” are politically palatable, however, with their focus on rescuing wayward ex-offenders, rather than preventing incarceration overall.
Their point is legitimate, but the main takeaway from the entire issue is that prison reform, justice reform, and bail reform are extremely complicated concepts, with the debate dominated by vitriol and hyperbole rather than honest debate and sound statistics. So far, bail reform in Maryland, for example, has resulting in more people in jail while awaiting trial rather than fewer. Oddly, it’s precisely what the ACLU feared when California’s SB10 passed (it would eliminated cash bail in the state but is being challenged).