As a child, I rarely saw a prison except on television. Now, I see them more often and in the most populous of areas—beside a strip mall or industrial park or along the highway.  The modern prison is not the gothic stone façade projecting doom and despair.  Now they are bland, dull buildings with a modicum of razor wire and very thin, unbreakable windows.  They blend into the background of the surrounding communities like schools and the DMV.   Still, I shudder at the sight of them, not so much because I fear escapees, but rather because I fear the bureaucracy of the prison system itself.

Facility is the word most often employed to describe these places, which always struck me as strange.  Facility is a word we use when something works, is easy, apt, and capable of being done.  Educational facilities, athletic facilities, bathroom facilities. To have facility at something is usually positive.  It is the mark of progress.

Generally, one does not think of prisons as working at all.  Even among the most ardent supporters admit that there simply isn’t enough room for all our prisoners. They are too costly or mismanaged.  They burden the taxpayer.   Because of this, people speak of private prisons as a solution.  That is, prisons for profit.  In fact, one can buy stock such companies like Avalon Correctional Services, Inc. (CITY), or Corrections Corp. of America (CXW) or the Geo Group Inc. (GEO) to name a few.  They pay modest dividends for those interested.

Of course, when most people hear of such prisons they are immediately struck by the wrongness of the thing.  Certainly, the rich have always been able to circumvent punishment or war by paying a substitute.  But this is another level.  It is made all the more repugnant because there are so few (if any) historical examples of prisons for profit; this is an innovation in the world of financial markets, of which it is said that America has the most facility.

Where is the moral outrage?  Why aren’t people on the streets decrying profit prisons?

Perhaps it simply has not gained enough purchase among the masses to be at the top of their concerns.  It is certainly no Darfur, nor gay marriage, nor the clamor that accompanies a parade of the KKK.  Prisons for profit and the unjust incarceration of so many  (because does any sensible person think there will not be a profit motive for wrongful imprisonment?) will have a long way to go before people will face the fact that they are wrong.

It will get worse, before it gets better.

To those who are passionate about the topic, their outrage is stoked by the obviousness of the immorality, but it must be positively inflamed at the ignorance of those who conduct their lives as if such a thing was none of their concern. Outrage at our moral ignorance is usually directed at our flagrant consumerism.  People are too concerned about unimportant things, they say.  We are stupefied by our superficiality—our concern is only for that which is skin deep.

Facility and superficiality–Facies–all matters of face.

On a side note: Euphemism is an interesting word.  It’s Greek, not Latin.  At its root it means to use words of good omen.  Please do.

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