Carceles privadas en EEUU: un negocio millonario

Hace poco más de 15 años, la investigadora estadounidense y activista de los años 60, Angela Davis, acuñó el término de “complejo industrial carcelario” y lo comparó al poderoso y tan temido complejo industrial militar estadounidense.

“Las cárceles no hacen desaparecer los problemas, hacen desaparecer a los seres humanos. Y la práctica de hacer desaparecer a grandes números de personas de las comunidades pobres, inmigrantes y racialmente marginadas se ha vuelto literalmente un gran negocio”, escribió la dirigente comunista.

La mayor empresa de cárceles en Estados Unidos, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), fue también la primera de esta innovadora industria.

Creada en 1983, fue ideada por Jack Massey, el mismo hombre que a fines de los años 60 fundó Hospital Corporation of America, hoy la mayor empresa de hospitales y centros de cirugía privados de Estados Unidos.

Al año siguiente, Wackenhut Corrections Corporation apareció en el mercado, una empresa que más tarde sería comprada por el Grupo Geo, la segunda compañía más grande del complejo industrial.

“La industria surgió en un contexto dominado por la mentalidad conservadora de la época de Ronald Reagan y por políticas de mano dura, que crearon la suficiente demanda para convencer a un grupo de inversionistas de que existía una oportunidad empresarial”, explicó a Télam Donald Cohen, director ejecutivo de la organización In the Public Interest.

Según relató por teléfono desde su oficina en Washington, las empresas comenzaron construyendo “cárceles especulativas”, es decir que lo hacían pese a no tener contratos con los gobiernos locales o estaduales.

Las primeras cárceles fueron construidas en pueblos pequeños y pobres con la promesa de garantizar empleos, aumentar la recaudación y abaratar los costos que provocaba la creciente población carcelaria a los gobiernos.

Cumplían las mismas reglamentaciones que las prisiones públicas y una vez en funcionamiento estaban bajo el control de los mismos entes gubernamentales, pero, como toda empresa, su objetivo último era el lucro.

Según Cohen, desde el principio la expansión de esta industria se basó en el “cortejo a los funcionarios”.

Primero fueron los municipios, luego los gobiernos de los estados, principalmente en el sur del país, cerca de la frontera con México, y finalmente, con la llegada de Bill Clinton a la Casa Blanca, el Estado nacional.

Clinton endureció aún más la política criminal del país, pero fue su compromiso con el fin de “la era del gran Estado” la que redujo dramáticamente la burocracia pública y abrió la puerta a que el Departamento de Justicia comenzara a contratar cárceles privadas para decenas de miles de inmigrantes indocumentados y criminales.

“Para mediados de los 90, CCA era una de las empresas que mejor cotizaba en Wall Street”, destacó Judy Green, directora de la organización Justice Strategies, una organización especializada en política criminal con base en Brooklyn, Nueva York.

Pero el mayor boom para el incipiente complejo industrial carcelario llegó después de la declaración de la “guerra contra el terrorismo” en 2001 y, especialmente, con la política para frenar la inmigración del segundo mandato del republicano George W. Bush.

Para fines de 2010 el complejo industrial carcelario concentraba el 8% de los presos en los sistemas federal y estadual, y se había instalado con distinta fuerza en 30 de los 50 estados del país, según la Oficina de Estadísticas de Justicia estadounidense.

El porcentaje parece pequeño, pero lo que llama la atención es el ritmo al que creció la industria en relación al aumento de personas detenidas en el país.

Entre 1999 y 2010, la población carcelaria en Estados Unidos creció un 18%, pero el número de presos en cárceles federales y estaduales privadas aumentó alrededor de un 80%.

CCA posee 66 cárceles con capacidad para 91.000 presos, mientras que el Grupo Geo tiene 65 prisiones y puede albergar más de 65.700 detenidos. Sus ganancias anuales en 2011 fueron de 1.700 millones y 1.600 millones de dólares, respectivamente.

A nivel federal este crecimiento se basó en la privatización de gran parte del sistema de detención de inmigrantes indocumentados, mientras que a nivel de los estados se consiguió gracias al “cortejo” de las autoridades locales, que permitió la firma de contratos poco convencionales.

Un informe de 2012 de In the Public Interest analizó 62 contratos de empresas de cárceles con gobiernos estaduales y reveló que más del 65% contiene cláusulas que obligan al Estado a garantizar una ocupación mínima del 80 hasta el 100% de “las camas”, incluso si la tasa de criminalidad disminuye.

Por ejemplo, en Colorado, el número de crímenes se redujo en un tercio en la última década y eso permitió el cierre de cinco cárceles públicas desde 2009.

Originalmente, el gobierno de Colorado había defendido la firma de contratos con prisiones privadas argumentando que el sistema carcelario público estaba desbordado.

Sin embargo, en 2012 y tras el cierre de cinco prisiones, el gobierno local firmó un acuerdo con CCA para garantizar durante 2013 al menos 3.300 presos en las tres cárceles que la empresa tiene en ese estado, con un costo anual de 20.000 dólares por preso.

Como el complejo industrial militar, la industria carcelaria adquirió sus dones de negociación a fuerza de millones de dólares invertidos en lobby y consiguió parte de su influencia gracias al grupo ALEC (Consejo de Intercambio Legislativo Estadounidense).

ALEC no es un grupo de lobby formalmente.

Su slogan es “gobierno limitado, libertad de mercados, federalismo”, su función es redactar y promocionar proyectos de ley y sus miembros incluyen más de 2.000 legisladores estaduales y directores ejecutivos de grandes corporaciones (hasta hace unos años, CCA y el Grupo Geo).

La agrupación está organizada por comisiones, como los del Poder Legislativo, y cada una está liderada por un legislador en funciones y un empresario vinculado con esa área.

Medios estadounidenses, entre ellos el diario The New York Times y la revista The Nation, vincularon a ALEC con leyes de mano dura, como la que permite a los ciudadanos disparar cuando sienten que su vida está en peligro, y las principales normas que permitieron la privatización del sistema penitenciario.

“Las empresas de cárceles no crearon las leyes, pero ayudaron a que sean aprobadas… y tiene sentido. Si cotizás en Wall Street, tenés que crecer. Y para que tus acciones suban, tu mercado tiene que agrandarse”, sintetizó Judy Green.

Los últimos 30 años demostraron que la única forma que tiene el complejo industrial carcelario de aumentar su mercado es con políticas criminales más duras.

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