February 22, 2013
Florida Atlantic University’s Stadium Named After a Prison Company. … The GEO Group is a for-profit prison company based in Boca Raton, Fla., that calls itself “the world’s leading provider of correctional and detention management and community reentry services to federal, state and local government agencies.” It can also call itself the world’s leading provider of Florida Atlantic University Owls football, having paid $6 million to put its name on the school’s stadium. — Business Week
Dominant Social Theme: Slavery was wiped out after the Civil War. Prisoners deserve what they get.
Free-Market Analysis: The United States penitentiary-industrial complex imprisons one-third to one-half of all incarcerated individuals in the world. Additionally, it has been reported that one of every three US individuals have some sort of interaction with the criminal justice system before they are 25.
While there are some six million behind bars — often for penalties of 25 years or more — these figures do not include people on parole and others who are out of the formal system but still suffer the consequences of being behind bars. An inordinate number of these people are enmeshed in the system for drug use, prostitution, etc. — issues of lifestyle choice, not crimes as normally understood within a historical context.
But perhaps the most pernicious part of the US criminal-justice system is the growth of private prison companies. These are part of the “privatizing” of the US criminal system, but to call them “private” is a kind of misuse of the word.
They are private in the sense that they are privately owned but they are certainly not private within the context of marketplace competition. They are monopoly franchises that have been turned over to the highest bidder from a municipality, state or other political jurisdiction.
As such, these prison franchises have little or no competition. Their single purpose is to deliver the highest possible revenue stream at the lowest possible cost. But as there is no competition, the results of this explosive growth of privatized prison facilities is bound to be increased internal abuse and human misery.
Sooner or later this system is going to suffer from an explosion of significant corruption and violence. It is not a situation that is stable in the long term because it has little to do with justice at this point and much to do with necessity of the larger US sociopolitical in which it resides.
Those involved with the system must be aware of the challenges involved in turning what is basically a kind of corporately-enhanced slavery into a “business” — as commonly conceived. Perhaps this is part of the impetus for the stadium naming. Here’s more from the article:
The deal … is unusual for a sponsorship space that’s normally reserved for soft drinks, airlines, and banks. The GEO Group’s customers are governments, not consumers. And it’s a company whose publicity strategy normally involves staying quiet. (As when, in 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU National Prison Project alleged in a class action lawsuit that a youth detention center GEO Group used to operate in Mississippi was home to “rampant contraband brought in by guards, sex between female guards and male inmates, inadequate medical care, prisoners held inhumanely in isolation, guards brutalizing inmates and inmate-on-inmate violence that was so brutal it led to brain damage.”)
The deal is understandable for Florida Atlantic. That $6 million will help pay the bills for athletic programs, no matter who is signing the checks, and the school has close connections with the company’s chairman and chief executive officer, George Zoley. More puzzling is what the GEO Group expects to gain by calling attention to itself.
“It’s basically a vanity play by the owner of the company,” says Jim Andrews, senior vice president of content strategy at IEG, a sponsorship consultant that has worked with the Minnesota Twins, Aon (AON), and the San Francisco 49ers. “There certainly aren’t a lot of direct marketing benefits that a company like his would get.”
While the deal does help position the company, he says, as an “interested corporate citizen in their home community,” GEO Group didn’t need to attach its name to do that. “If [George Zoley] had named it Zoley stadium or named it after his father, the people who would need to know in the community would understand who he is and what company he owns, but Bloomberg Businessweek and the New York Times would not be writing articles about it.”
Andrews concedes that for some fans, the deal may help legitimize GEO. “For people who don’t really look too deeply,” he says, “it creates a nice veneer.” But he would have cautioned GEO strongly as to whether the deal was worth the negative attention.
In other reports, individuals have reacted positively to the company’s naming gambit but the concept of prison privatization is so deeply controversial and enmeshes corporations so intricately in the US’s justice system that further scandals are merely a matter of time.
Long ago, the US justice system took a wrong turn, forfeiting natural rights for a system that legitimizes law based on state manifestos. What is illegal is whatever the state says it is — and this is an unsustainable paradigm.
Lawmakers are unconstrained by common sense or competitive pushback, for the Invisible Hand has no place in the legislature. Legislators are free to pass whatever laws they want, make illegal whatever they want and propose penalties that are entirely incongruent. The result is broken families, shattered lives and even more costs to society.
The putative solution to this is a growing partnership between private sector efficiencies and public-sector penitentiaries. The latter is unconstrained and the former is designated to provide forms of discipline and efficiency. Such a partnership can be labeled “fascist” — as government sets the agenda and tone and then turns to the corporate world for day-to-day supervision.
Conclusion: Naming a stadium after a participant in such a process may be seen as having a legitimizing effect on a profoundly illegitimate enterprise. But ultimately, the corporate entity is facilitating a kind of state slavery and the nomenclature and process cannot disguise the larger, ugly — and socially destabilizing — truth.