Among the many claims and demands being tossed around at the debate Monday night there was one from Hillary Clinton which didn’t receive quite as much media attention as the rest and it had to do with private prisons. As part of her grand vision for America, Hillary exclaimed as follows:

“I’m glad that we’re ending private prisons in the federal system; I want to see them ended in the state system. You shouldn’t have a profit motivation to fill prison cells with young Americans.”

It was a bit of red meat tossed out to the social justice warriors to firm up her support on the left, but it had some immediate effects. People in that particular industry took notice and by yesterday morning stocks in private prisons had dropped significantly. (Forbes)

Private prison operators saw their stock prices plummet last month when the Justice Department said it would move away from using their institutions, and things got worse Monday when Hillary Clinton used the debate stage to praise the decision and call for matching action from state governments.

On Tuesday, prison stocks tumbled from the opening bell as Corrections Corporation of America dropped more than 7% and GEO Group slid 3%.

Clinton’s casual remark may have some potential benefits at the voting booth, but the hypocrisy on display, along with the seeming blindness to fiscal realities on the state level are offensive. First of all, it’s not the federal government’s place to tell the states how to organize their own prison systems. It’s a matter of budget management, and if the economy were in better shape they might not have to worry about it so much. Private systems are simply more cost effective than their counterparts run by a bloated government bureaucracy, so some states have taken that route to try to keep their bottom line under control. The prison system is far from perfect, but no candidate should be calling for mandatory government management until they can demonstrate that the government in question is actually capable of managing them efficiently.

But even more to the point, why did we need all of that prison space in the first place? When the debate was heating up again this summer, the New York Times noted that, ‘tough on crime’ laws, including mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession… led to a huge increase in incarceration rates. When did that happen? Oh, that’s right. During Bill Clinton’s time in office, back when Hillary was talking about getting all of the super-predators off the streets. In fact, as the LA Times went on to note shortly after Bill left office, federal and state prison populations rose more under former President Bill Clinton than under any other president.

If you want to talk about prison overcrowding which led to the privatization movement, perhaps you could begin by talking about how we wound up with so many prisoners in the first place.