Former media mogul Conrad Black has long been a fan of free markets, but when it comes to prisons, the ex-inmate says profits should have no place.
Privatizing the country's prions is “a catastrophic idea,” he told The Huffington Post Canada during an editorial lunch meeting.
Black, who served nearly four years in a federal U.S. prison, in total, after being convicted on charges fraud and obstruction of justice related to his time as head of Hollinger International, said the penal system is “fundamentally not a commercial matter.”
A privatized prison "is like any other business. They want it to be bigger. So there is this constant agitation by shareholders … to have stricter laws, longer sentences, more criminal statutes, bigger prison populations."
Black was responding to news reports that U.S. private prison corporations are lobbying Ottawa for contracts, and the Correction Service of Canada is mulling contracting out some prison functions.
That the government is even considering this avenue amounts to a “confession of failure,” Black argued.
Private prison companies “absolutely scrape the bottom of the barrel” when looking for employees, and do nothing to reintegrate inmates into society, the former owner of the National Post and the U.K.'s Daily Telegraph said.
“The commodity is the prisoners,” he said.
Bloomberg news service reported earlier this month that the Correctional Service of Canada “may consider” contracting out certain prison services, such as cleaning and food preparation.
The Guardian reported in June that two prominent U.S. prison corporations -- Geo Group and Management and Training Corporation -- are actively lobbying Ottawa for contracts. A Geo Group representative met with Public Safety Minister Vic Toews last fall, according to government records.
However, a spokesperson for Toews said the government has "no appetite to pursue fully privatised prisons."
Black’s time in the U.S. prison system was spent at a government-owned facility, the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Florida. He has maintained his innocence throughout, and had two of the three fraud charges against him overturned at the U.S. Supreme Court.
But his years inside the penal system have turned him into a vociferous critic of the U.S. justice system.
Though he said he generally approved of the Conservative government in Ottawa, he described the recently enacted omnibus crime bill as a “step in the wrong direction.” He said he feared for the future of the “distressingly high” number of natives in Canada’s prison system.
Echoing arguments made by other critics, Black said excessive criminal sentences have given U.S. prosecutors the ability to force people into plea bargains, even when they are not guilty. “The plea-bargain system is a joke,” he said, adding that “any step in that direction is bad.”