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Memo to California: don’t try to con us

26 January 2010

What is it with Californians, that they want to dump their social problems (not to mention their toxic wastes and the excrement) in Mexico?

Can’t afford the over-sized houses that are part and parcel of the American experience? No problem… build in the Baja. Can’t get your act together and provide affordable insurance to your citizens? No problem… go to Mexico for “medical vacations.” Can’t dispose of your mounting piles of garbage caused by the excessive and wasteful lifestyle of a consumerist society? No problem… ship it to Mexico? Finding a legal system based on incarcerating huge numbers of people a burden? No problem… ship the inmates to Mexico. Er… wait a minute.

In the movies, Arnold Schwarzenegger may have been an innovative, if crude, problem solver who could brush aside the petty concerns of mere mortals, but the California governor isn’t in the movies any more.

Sacramento, CA – California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger suggested that one billion dollars of California’s budget crisis could easily be solved by paying private Mexican companies to build private prisons, and then housing California’s approximate 20,000 illegal immigrant prisoners there.

The idea of outsourcing is not new, not even when it comes to jails and prisons. California’s jails and prisons are grossly overcrowded, some running at more than one and a half times capacity, with mattresses on floors and small cells stuffed past capacity…

Mexican prisons are even more crowded, and its prisons are in worse condition than those of California. Prison reforms have stalled (“thanks” to over-emphasis on the “drug war”) and there are enough problems taking care of our own, even if the entire country has a much, much, much lower rate of incarceration than the United States. Texas alone has more people in jail than the entire Republic of Mexico. And California has more prisoners than Texas.

Private prisons have been suggested from time to time in Mexico.  Contracts were let in 2004, but nothing was ever built, and the idea has languished except among  hard-core privatization enthusiasts.  Given that the theories of Mexican penology, like those in other Latin American countries, are grounded in the concept of rehabilitation and return to society, not removal from society; AND, that every time the idea comes up, it dies for lack of political support (and would be unlikely to stand up to legal challenges); AND is regarded with horror for historical reasons (see my book on the Yucatan haciendas and the Valle Nacional, or read John Kenneth Turner’s classic “Barbarous Mexico“) by a people who value their history (unlike, say, Californians) — don’t expect any sudden change in attitude on this.

Schwarzenegger’s idea isn’t even new. The lower house of Arizona’s state legislature actually managed to get a bill through doing exactly the same thing the Gobernator is suggesting, back in 2005. The Mexican government was not amused:

“To start with, they cannot decide to open a jail in Sonora. It’s a matter of national sovereignty,” said Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez.

“They can take all the decisions they want,” Derbez said, “but that has no validity.”

…followed by a rather curt note from Secretary Derbez to then Governor Janet Napolitano telling the Arizonans that they should have at least checked with the Mexicans that the idea was even feasible.

Which didn’t stop the Texas Senate from introducing a similar bill in 2007 “…[d]espite the analysis of the Senate Criminal Justice committee that it was beyond the authority of Texas to pursue such a measure…”. The Texans pursued the bill for a time, but then again, the Texas Legislature is the world’s laboratory for bad policy ideas. Nothing ever came of it.

I don’t think this idea is going to advance to the stage where the Mexican government becomes the Terminator and has to say “hasta la vista, bay-bee” to the whole stupid idea — though it’s Schwarzenegger’s own fault he’s starring in  “Dumb and Dumber III”

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Omar García permalink
    26 January 2010 12:24 pm

    Gracias por el artículo, Señor Grabman.

    I always thought that having Schwarzenegger as governor is so absurd like having one of the Almada brothers as a governor in a Mexico State.

    I think that the population would not allow to have a Californian jail here.

  2. Honey Anne Haskin permalink
    26 January 2010 11:19 pm

    Very interesting site. Is there any way to contact the website owner by private e-mail?


    • 26 January 2010 11:24 pm

      the email address is in the right hand column, just under the “paypal verified” seal.

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