Here’s a new twist on outsourcing: housing U.S. inmates in Mexican prisons.
This week, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger suggested that the state might outsource incarceration by opening prisons in Mexico in order to house jailed undocumented immigrants.
Sfgate.com reports the governor saying, “We pay them to build the prisons down in Mexico and then we have those undocumented immigrants be down there in a prison. … And all this, it would be half the cost to build the prisons and half the cost to run the prisons.”
Of the state’s 171,000 prisoners, approximately 19,000 are illegal immigrants. The state spends more than $8 billion a year on the prison system. Schwarzenegger predicted housing prisoners in Mexico instead of California would save the state $1 billion that could be spent on higher education.
The idea has a certain logic: Under the terms of the 1977 Prisoner Transfer Treaty between the United States and Mexico, United States prisoners in Mexican jails and Mexican prisoners in United States jails may choose to serve their sentences in their home countries.
But there’s a definite taint of “let’s send the illegals back where they came from” anti-immigrant sentiment in the governor’s comment. Beyond that, it’s just a very odd idea. When one breaks the law within a given set of borders, it makes sense to be punished within the limits of that same country. Each country has its own philosophy of crime and punishment. Mexico tends to have longer waits for sentencing, for instance, but shorter prison terms.
And though there’s no yelp.com for prisons around the world, it’s pretty clear that Mexican prisons aren’t known to be models of modern and humane incarceration.
An analysis of Mexican prison conditions (drawing from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook) concludes that “overcrowding of prisons is chronic. Mistreatment of prisoners, the lack of trained guards, and inadequate sanitary facilities compound the problem. The United States Department of State’s country reports on human rights practices for 1992 and 1993 state that an entrenched system of corruption undermines prison authority and contributes to abuses. Authority frequently is exercised by prisoners, displacing prison officials. Violent confrontations, often linked to drug trafficking, are common between rival prison groups.
In fact, just this week, a prison riot in the Mexican state of Durango left 23 inmates dead.
Not that Mexico suffers in every prison-related comparison. The U.S. enjoys the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world. And Mexico has some prison policies that are more humane than those in the U.S. For example, women inmates are allowed to have their children under 5 live with them in prison. The Huffington Post recently published a photo essay on Mexican Prison Life: Babies Behind Bars.
Even if the prisons in Mexico were built and run by the U.S., Schwarzenegger ‘s idea would still be problematic. Donald Specter, director of the Prison Law Office, said it “would be like the state of California having a separate island of its own government in Mexico. It just seems like that would be impossible.”
The not-so-sweet spot where privatization meets outsourcing
Schwarzenegger’s suggestion sits at the intersection of privatization and outsourcing. Earlier this month, our my-governor-can-beat-up-your-governor called for allowing private companies to compete with state-run prisons, which he claims would save billions of dollars.
And beyond privatization, it seems that in this era of free trade in a global economy, everything’s on the table for possible outsourcing: manufacturing, telephone help centers, retirement, medical care, and now, imprisonment.
What’s next—the outsourcing of education? Maybe public school would be more viable if you only had to pay teachers a few dollars an hour. And how about outsourcing funeral services? We could send our loved ones abroad for cut-rate embalming, Fed Ex them back to the local cemetery, then hire illegal immigrants to help us mourn.