Subject: [CGIN-list] up the river . . . to the co-op?
From: "Donald M. Kreis" [XXX54@columbia.edu]
Date: Tue, 31 Mar 2009 23:48:54 -0400
To: co-op Board listserve [XXXXX@cgin.coop], CGIN listserve [XXXXX@cgin.coop]
A friend in the NH Legislature -- a Republican with whom I exchange friendly banter from time to time -- forwarded this to me . . . and I have to confess I am without a credible response. Any ideas?
President, Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Rep. Lois Fairchild [XXXchild@leg.state.nh.us]
Date: Mar 25, 2009 11:41 PM
Subject: first gay marriage and now THIS?
To: Donald M. Kreis [XXX54@columbia.edu]
Don: I know you're into this cooperative thing and belong to the socialist fringe of the Democratic Party. Can you explain what these people are thinking?
Administration to Put Inmates in Charge of New Federal Prison
By John De Bello
Assocated Press Writer
LITTLETON, New Hampshire (AP) – Attorney General Eric Holder plans to travel to this remote New Hampshire village next month to launch what the Obama Administration is calling the boldest prison reform experiment in nearly two centuries: a correctional facility that is not just run by its inmates but is actually owned by them.
Holder will join local officials here in officially opening the $457 million Meldrim Thompson Cooperative Correctional Facility, a federal prison that will house 300 inmates under terms of incarceration that even the project’s proponents concede are without precedent in the history of punishment.
“It came to me in a blinding flash of insight, while shopping at my local food co-op,” explained J. Stephen Peace, the Justice Department’s newly appointed director of the Bureau of Prisons. “Wouldn’t inmates behave better, and actually build a sense of community behind the prison walls, if they owned the facility and if it existed to serve them instead of oppress them?”
Rather than have a warden appointed by the Bureau of Prisons, the Thompson Correctional Co-op will have a general manager who is appointed by the inmates themselves, through an elected board of directors. To become a resident of the facility, an inmate would have to make an equity investment of $3,500 – after getting the approval of his or her sentencing judge and probation officer.
It will, however, still be a prison. The inmates on the board will have the right to hire, supervise and fire the general manager, but the by-laws of the cooperative prison specify that it must be run according to the same rules and regulations that govern the rest of the federal prison system. Yes, there will be the usual cells, bars, locks and strict behavioral requirements.
“But it will be a democracy – a real democracy,” said Bob Hayes, general manager of the Littleton Consumer Cooperative Society – the town’s new food co-op which will, by coincidence, open not long before the prison does and which will, under an agreement with the Justice Department, have a special relationship with the new federal facility.
The Littleton Co-op will provide advice to the Bureau of Prisons on
running a cooperative organization and, in return, low-risk federal inmates on work release will stock shelves and work the checkout counter at the food store. Part of the arrangement would allow inmates to borrow the $3,500 prison membership fee from the food co-op and then work off the debt.
“The federal prison system is full of guys who know all about retailing because they were peddling illegal drugs,” said Hayes. “I can’t wait to put all those street smarts to work selling herbal medicines and organic vegetables!”
According to Professor Thomas Nokitofa, director of the Crime and Punishment Institute at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the new correctional facility could be the biggest advance in prison management in the English-speaking world since the modern concept of a penitentiary replaced the traditional, dungeon-like jail in the early 19th Century. “Two hundred years ago, prisoners were literally treated like vermin, and people were outraged at first about reform efforts,” said Nokitofa. “Today most of us understand that inmates need rehabilitation – and what could be better calculated to do that than living and working cooperatively?”
The Obama Administration likes the prison co-op idea not just for policy reasons but because it is a rare example in today's economic turmoil of something that will reduce rather than increase the federal deficit. "This has potential implications for vast swaths of the federal goverment," according to Samuel Smith, a press officer with the Office of Management and Budget. "Requiring users of a particular facility to provide the equity to support the infrastructure is a great way to leverage the government's resources."
Still, the plan has its critics – some of them local folks who are not thrilled with such an unusual neighbor.
“I’ve heard of inmates running the asylum, but this is ridiculous,” said Wilbur Finletter, a county commissioner and outspoken local Republican whose home will be just a few hundred feet from the new prison. “I don’t think Hannibal Lechter is going to give a damn about ‘democratic member control’ or ‘concern for community.’” His quip alludes to two of the seven “cooperative principles,” adopted by the International Cooperative Alliance, that officials say will guide the new cooperative prison.
Gretta Attenbaum, manager of the local Piggly Wiggly supermarket, vowed to file a lawsuit to stop the facility from opening. “Nobody said anything about cooperatives, or driving the local food store out of business, when the Bush Administration showed up and said this would help our local economy,” she said. “Now that the socialists are in charge, we are not going to cooperate with their crazy cooperative. If [President] Obama thinks this is such a great idea, he should let the gorillas and monkeys run the National Zoo in Washington.”
Also apoplectic is the Congressional Law and Order Caucus. According to its chairman, Rep. Don Foozman (R-Ark.), the bipartisan caucus will hold a news conference and public protest on the day of Holder's appearance in New Hampshire. The protest is tentatively scheduled to be held outside the U.S. Penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, an ultra-high-security facility where 22 percent of inmates have killed fellow prisoners in other correctional facilities.
The Bureau of Prisons is seemingly unconcerned about the threats and expressions of outrage. According to spokesperson Jim Richardson, as long as the inmates are locked inside, the Bureau has the authority to set whatever rules – or allow the inmates to set whatever rules – they want within the facility.
“We’re confident that once this thing is up and running, everyone will see that a cooperative prison is a real achievement for Littleton and for the nation,” said Richardson.
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