Justice Is Not for Sale: Why the Private Prison System Must Go

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As a practicing Catholic, I’m well aware that Lent is a penitential season for reflection and fasting. But I’m also one of those liberal Catholics concerned with social justice issues, especially ones that I think don’t receive enough focus than they should most of the time. One of these is the issue of privatized prisons, which I decide to do a blog post on since it’s been in my head for a long time and keeps up with the season of Lent. Besides, those affected by the privatized prison system are among the most vulnerable in our society since they neither have a political voice nor are innocent enough for people to demonstrate on their behalf. Yes, I know that a lot of our laws protect criminals but if you ever know how they’ve been treated by the system throughout history, it makes a lot of sense. Because while they may not be innocent or anywhere nice, criminals are human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity regardless of what they did. A lot of times, society hasn’t been very kind to them and many have been subjected to punishments that are a lot more harshly and less humane than several years in a barred cell. Sure everyone agrees that criminals should be made accountable for their actions but there are so many problems with how we treat criminals that this has led to a situations known as recidivism and prison overcrowding. Mass incarceration due to the War on Drugs has also played a key role. One of the ways, the US has tried to deal with such problems of rising prison costs is contracting privatized prison facilities. As of 2013, there are 133,000 state and federal prisoners housed in privately owned prisons in the US consisting of 8.4% of the country’s prison population. This includes 19.1% of federal prisoners and 6.8% of their state prison counterparts. And the number has been at a slow increase since the 1980s which has made the private prison industry a $5 billion dollar business enterprise with investors like Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Fidelity Investments, General Electric, and the Vanguard Group. The most prominent companies are the Corrections Corporation of America, the GEO Group, Inc., and Management and Training Corporation. Private prisons operate in 33 states. Not surprisingly, most are located in the southern and western states. However, I believe that the privatized prison industry is one that brings out the worst in our country that they should be banned. And it’s a shame that because the story of private prisons is one which nobody talks about but I think it’s one everyone should hear.

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This is from a privatized prison in Mississippi. It’s said that while minorities tend to be over represented in the general prison population, this is even more so in for-profit facilities. And they usually tend to be young and poor. This is mostly due to the notion that such inmates are cheaper to incarcerate.

  1. For-profit prisons harm minorities, the young, and the poor. – Poor and ethnic minorities have been disproportionately affected by the faults of criminal justice system (especially if they’re young men). In the US, it’s said that 1 in 3 African American men as well as 1 in 6 Latino men will spend time behind bars during their lifetime. Not only that, but black men are 20 more times likely to be arrested for marijuana possession and spend 20 more years in federal prisons than their white peers for the same crimes. And that’s just in the publicly run facilities. According to a UC Berkeley Ph. D. candidate named Christopher Petrella, the racial disparities in privatized prisons are even greater with people of color being housed at higher percentages. Not only that, but they also tend to be young. Petrella found that this was because private prisons usually seek out the youngest, healthiest, and cheapest prisoners. Add to the fact that many of them tend to be disproportionately poor, are usually convicted of nonviolent drug offenses and petty thievery, and more likely to experience recidivism. For them, such prisoners are the best kind of money making asset despite that they’ll be screwed up for life. After all, a young and poor person who’s convicted of petty thievery will end up committing more crimes in the future since ex-cons are often targets of discrimination as job candidates and educational institutions. Many nonviolent ex-cons and parolees are among the least deserving of such treatment. This should give us an idea that for-profit prison companies are in it to make money and not to protect society.
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According to this infographic on prison violence in Mississippi, 3 of its 4 private prisons have experienced more assaults than any of its public pens. And unfortunately, the state’s private prison population is increasing.

2. For-profit prisons abuse prisoners.- Horror stories from the world of American privatized prisons are plentiful and appalling as profits are normally placed ahead of inmates’ care, health, and safety. Last year, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the East Mississippi Correctional Facility (EMCF) on behalf of the inmates. Alleged abuses include rampant rapes, prisoners placed in solitary confinement for months at a time, stabbings, beatings, and other acts of violence occurring on a regular basis (whether the guards are involved or turning a blind eye). It’s also been reported that juveniles are put in jails with adults, where they’re oftentimes sexually (or otherwise) assaulted. Chronic hunger, malnourishment, rat infestations, suicides, have also been chronicled. And EMCF is not an unusual case. It’s widely reported that private prisons have much higher rates of inmate on inmate violence than their state run counterparts. 65% more frequent to be exact. And conditions are said to be even more horrific. A 2011 ACLU report on private prisons report horrifying cases of abuse that include juveniles smelling of urine and feces, racial segregation, punishment for speaking Spanish, and refusal of medical and mental health treatment. Thus, being an inmate in a private prison can be a hellish experience because private prisons have no interest in their inmates’ well being. To them, prisoners are commodities to profit from and nothing more.

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This is an infographic on immigrant detention centers, many of which operate in the private prison business. A lot of these centers treat immigrants horribly where they have to live in horrid conditions and precarious circumstances as well as without legal representation. Undocumented immigrants have committed no crime whatsoever and their illegal entry is a civil violation at best. Yet, these detention centers treat them like criminals.

3. For-profit prisons victimize immigrants.– Aside from state and federal prisons, private prison ventures have been operating centers for immigrant detainees because the federal government lacks money and inclination to build anew. John Whitehead writes, “And yes, in case you were wondering, part of the investment pitch for CCA and its cohort GEO Group include the profits to be made in building “kindler, gentler” minimum-security facilities designed for detaining illegal immigrants, especially low-risk detainees like women and children. With immigration a persistent problem in the southwestern states, especially, and more than 250 such detention centers going up across the country, there is indeed money to be made. For example, GEO’s new facility in Karnes County, Texas, boasts a “608-bed facility still smelling of fresh paint and new carpet stretch[ing] across a 29-acre swath of farmland in rural South Texas. Rather than prison cells, jumpsuits, and barbed wire fencing, detainees here will sleep in eight-bed dormitory-style quarters, wearing more cozy attire like jeans and T-shirts. The facility’s high walls enclose lush green courtyards with volleyball courts, an AstroTurfed soccer field, and basketball hoops, where detainees are free to roam throughout the day.” All of this, of course, comes at taxpayer expense.” When I was in college, I’ve seen how immigrant detainees were treated on Frontline. Not sure if the facility featured was owned by ICE or by some private prison company. Either way, it was nothing like that and sort of brought me some degree of shame for my country. But at any rate, these people were all huddled together incredibly inhumane conditions such as physical abuse, inadequate healthcare, threats to physical violence, overcrowding, and squalor. Many of these detainees can’t afford to hire a lawyer and remain trapped in a seemingly endless legal process. It’s not surprising that a lot of them can be held in these centers for months, possibly over a year. They’re also used as cheap labor to maintain the facilities. Some earn a dollar a day, some earn stuff like candy bars, and some earn nothing. And it’s said perks like healthy food, outdoor activities, and mental health care are less available in private ICE facilities than their state run counterparts. Whitehead also writes how immigrants are heavily impacted with 2.5 million people being through the immigration detention system since 2003. At least half of them had been in private facilities that hold 34,000 on a daily basis as mandated by Congress. Today private prisons control 62% of the incarcerated immigrant population in the US.

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This is photo is from a private juvenile center in Florida, which has privatized their juvenile prison system. As the most recent data indicates 40% of all juveniles are in private facilities where they’re being abused, neglected, and living in unsanitary conditions. All this is making their situations all the more tragic.

4. For-profit prisons harm children.- According to federal data in 2011, nearly 40% of juvenile delinquents are committed to private facilities. In Florida, private contractors have recently took control of all the state’s 3,300 youth prison beds which has produced some of the worst re-offending rates in the nation. Today, more than 40% of the state’s incarcerated youth wind up arrested and convicted of another crime within a year after their release. On the other hand, only 25% of youth offenders end up the same way in New York which has no private juvenile facilities to speak of. And privatization of Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice continues to fail the state’s most troubled kids despite numerous allegations of abuse, neglect, violence, and unsanitary conditions. So much so that it has attracted attention from the US Department of Justice. One of the largest companies in juvenile sentencing is Youth Services International that had more than 40,000 boys and girls in 16 states go through its facilities whether they be prisons, boot camps, or detention center in over the last 20 years. Children held at YSI facilities across the country have frequently faced beatings, neglect, sexual abuse, and unsanitary food. And YSI isn’t an unusual case. Incarcerating adults in the name of profit is one thing, but doing the same to children is just beyond the pale. Many juvenile delinquents come from terrible circumstances like poverty or abuse. A lot of them are mentally ill and have substance abuse problems. Now juvenile detention centers aren’t supposed to be like Disney World. But they shouldn’t be hell houses either where kids have no adequate access to services to prepare for release like education resources, mental health counseling, or substance abuse treatment. But that’s exactly what’s happening at private juvenile facilities across the country and the reports about the conditions are shocking. It’s tragic that such conditions lead to many of these kids leading horrible lives and being trapped in a system that they can never get out of. Many kids in private juvenile detention centers will be screwed up for life as well as set up for a lifetime of incarceration as adults.

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Though more abuse occurs in private prisons than their public counterparts, companies are more likely to turn a blind eye since they’re more focused on making money. And as a result, complaints are ignored while incidents aren’t even reported.

5. For-profit prisons profit from abuse, silencing, and mistreatment.– While many conservatives believe that prisoners have it easy in prison with great food, workout equipment, entertainment, and a lot of time on their hands, nothing could be further from the truth. Even the least notorious prisons are rife with inequality, dangers, and misery. And it’s not uncommon for a young first time offender to be placed right next to a career criminal. Nevertheless, public prisons don’t benefit from abuse and mistreatment of prisoners and neither does the general public. As prison corporations are lauded for their tough on crime measures, incidences of abuse, neglect, and violence are often unreported and unnoticed while communities suffer. Inmates grievances often go unread and unanswered while red flags are kept within. And thanks to Minneci v. Pollard (2012), the Supreme Court ruled that Eighth Amendment “cruel and unusual” cases can’t be brought against private prison employees, which ensues. Private prisons simply don’t care about the general welfare of their inmates than the profits they’re getting from them. And as long as private prisons profit from their inmates’ misery and squalor, they will keep their inmates’ grievances from seeing the light of day. Such actions deny any potential for outside oversight.

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While JPay isn’t exactly in the private prison business, they do profit off of inmates and their loved ones with their banking service. They’ve exploited these people mercilessly with exorbitant fees. And it doesn’t help that many of them are already financially struggling and suffering.

6. For-profit prison companies exploit prison families. – It is well known that private prison companies and their affiliates do everything they can to make a buck off people in prison and their families. Prison phone companies are said to charge high rates for prisoners to talk to family and friends. If they or their loved ones can’t afford the fees, they run a higher risk of social isolation, which will not help their rehabilitation. Studies have shown that social connections are critical to a prisoner’s rehabilitation process once they’re released. Not to mention, there are 2.7 million kids who have an incarcerated parent and many of them suffer immeasurably when such unaffordable rates rob them of parental contact. And it’s bad enough that these kids come from at-risk backgrounds of poverty and have an elevated risk for drug abuse, school failure, unemployment, and mental health problems. Many of these children are likely to end up just like their parents. For children whose mothers are in jail, many of them will end up in foster care and never see them again since they have no one else who’d take care of them. That’s not forgetting the financial strains for-profit prisons and their affiliates put on families. For instance, for-profit prison banker JPay is known to prey on inmates’ families with some forgoing medical care, skipping utility bills, and limiting contact with imprisoned relatives just to make payments. Many of these prison families tend to be poor and such costs make it much more difficult for them to escape poverty as long as their loved one is in the system. And it doesn’t help that JPay is the only way to for nearly 40% of prison families to send money to a loved one which costs $6.95 for fast processing. Else, it might take forever if loved ones go with the “free option.” Private vendors can also charge prisoners and their families sky high prices essentials like clothes and hygiene products. It’s terrible enough for families should have their loved one incarcerated. But it’s devastating that they have to suffer for their loved one’s crime like this through no fault of their own.

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In 2010, 3 inmates broke out of the Arizona State Prison in Kingman, Arizona, kidnapped and killed 2 tourists, and burned their bodies in a camper. It was later found that this prison operated by the Management and Training Corporation had inadequate patrols and prison movement, excessive false alarms, inadequate staff training., and inconsistencies with visitor screening procedures. You can see why private prisons don’t want to take in violent offenders.

7. Privatized prisons do a terrible job keeping violent offenders behind bars. – When it comes to a prison system’s effectiveness in protecting the public, you want one that’s fit to keep the most dangerous criminals behind bars. Given the problems our public prison system has, you still have maximum security facilities that have done a great job keeping the Unabomber and Charles Manson at bay. However, when it comes to security, private prisons tend to be medium at the max and often refuse to accept inmates that cost the most to house. Many of the crooks that actually pose a danger to society would fall into this category. A 2005 study found that Arizona’s public facilities were 7 times more likely to house violent criminals and 3 times more likely to house those convicted of more serious crimes. And when it comes to handling these dangerous criminals that are usually reclassified as a low security risk, private prisons have proved inept which has led to terrible consequences both in the jails and out. After all, the high frequency of unchecked violence that goes in there proves that some of these violent criminals are in there. Also, violent offenders have a tendency to be transferred to a public facility. Then there’s the question of security and keeping these crooks in. In 2010, 3 inmates escaped from a private prison in Kingman, Arizona, kidnapped two tourists, killed them both, and burned their bodies in the camper. It was later found that the prison these inmates broke out of had inadequate patrols and prison movement (the perimeter was unmonitored for 15 minutes at the start of every shift and had only one guard at the premises during the time of escape), excessive false alarms (89 during a 16 hour study period), inadequate training (1/3 of security staff had less than 3 months on the job and there was no officer training program), and inconsistencies with visitor screening procedure. To put it this way, such a system made this a very easy prison to escape and not one you’d want to put murderers in.

How Private Prisons Profit

This is an infographic snip showing how private prisons profit which consists of occupancy quotas, cutting corners on costs, choosing cheap inmates, and keeping them in horrible conditions. Sure private prisons say that they’re more cost efficient than their public counterparts, but at what cost?

8. Privatized prisons aren’t cost efficient.- Private prison companies often sell the idea that they’re a cost-effective option for cash strapped states. However, there are 24 different studies on cost-effectiveness revealed that it’s either inconclusive or non-existent. Some research has even concluded that for-profit prisons might cost more than their public counterparts. It was also determined that some cost estimates might be misleading because privatize facilities often refuse to accept inmates that cost the most to house such as the disabled, the elderly, the HIV-positive, the mentally ill, those convicted of serious and violent crimes, and others. And a 2001 study concluded that many prison companies artificially inflate cost savings by sending the less expensive inmates to their facilities. Furthermore, privatized prisons are more likely to dole out twice the amount of infractions against inmates that lengthened their sentences by average 2 to 3 months, which can amount to as much as $3,000 increased cost per prisoner. Not only that, but inmates housed in private prisons were more likely to wind up back in the system after being released. And we all know recidivism contributes to prison overcrowding and isn’t fiscally responsible by any stretch of the imagination. Not to mention, these companies are paid by the state and at the taxpayer expense. If a state failed to reach an occupancy rate, it has to pay the company a reimbursement. Add to that the cost of poor quality that’s shifted to police dealing with escapees, court systems coping with prison lawsuits, and public hospitals treating inmates.

Boon to Local Economies.

Private prisons like to sell the idea that they help save taxpayer money and benefit local economies. However, several studies have found just the opposite. Here is an infographic detailing the case of Harding, Montana where the promise of a private prison never panned out and wasted the town millions.

9. Privatized prisons are a waste of taxpayer money and don’t benefit local economies.– While privatization is claimed to lead to tax savings for the public, it actually costs us more. Sure some of you might complain about your tax dollars going to public programs like welfare and other social services, but each public dollar paid through one social service will spend itself 4-8 times more elsewhere in the public sector. But once public money goes into private hands, it is gone for good. This is especially true when privatization corporations are given handsome tax breaks and “incentives” in the form of what liberals like me call, “corporate welfare” meaning we’re even less likely to see that money again even if these companies present a lower figure to do the same job. We should also remember that those who privatize are generally wealthy who tend to receive your hard earned tax dollars funneled into rich guys’ coffers for their own personal gain. Today such “corporate welfare” is justified through the notion that the “free market” is the same as democracy, an idea that assumes that if everything was privatized and ruled by the law of the dollar, then democracy will be ensured. This may be true for the rich but it’s not for everyone else. And such ideas about “the free market” are what’s screwing this country, especially since Citizens United. Nevertheless, private prisons are said to rely on government perks like subsidies as well as tax abatements and reductions. But of course, many states sign up private prison contracts since they offer a promise for jobs. However, we should note that they don’t hire a lot of staff and despite claims that state budgets can be bolstered by private prisons, studies have found just the opposite.

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While the private prison industry is certainly profitable, the concept of locking up criminals for profit is inherently unethical since it reduces them as commodities. Sure criminals aren’t innocent people but they’re also human beings. And no human being should have their freedom taken away from them in the name of profit.

10. Profiting from the imprisonment of human beings is morally wrong and constitutes as predatory practices. –As a venture, the private prison industry is a case in which a few people exploit our society’s larger problems for their own gain at a cost we all bare and get little in return. As John Whitehead writes, “No matter what the politicians or corporate heads might say, prison privatization is neither fiscally responsible nor in keeping with principles of justice. It simply encourages incarceration for the sake of profits, while causing millions of Americans, most of them minor, nonviolent criminals, to be handed over to corporations for lengthy prison sentences which do nothing to protect society or prevent recidivism. This perverse notion of how prisons should be run, that they should be full at all times, and full of minor criminals, is evil.” With the growing influence of the private prison industry, the US is, in effect, commoditizing human bodies for an industry in militant pursuit of profit. And it’s an industry that creates a system that trades money for human freedom, often at the expense of the nation’s most vulnerable populations: children, immigrants, and the poor. For such an enterprise to exist our country is morally indefensible and a national disgrace.

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This is the infographic where the Freedom of Information Act is applicable to prisons. Notice how the public and private maps are of different colors. That’s because that private prisons tend to operate with little government oversight. This not acceptable.

11. Privatized prisons aren’t held accountable to the same degree their government owned counterparts. – Our taxpayer funded public prisons may be inherently flawed in many ways. But at least these prisons are operated and overseen by the state and federal governments for the benefit of the public good. Because of this, public prisons are encouraged to provide the best quality of service taxpayer money can buy. Because if public prisons fail, then everyone suffers. Privatized prisons just want to make money with their profit depending on the money they get from the state and spending as little as possible on the prisoners and the prisons. Not only that, but also housing as many inmates as possible, kept as long as possible, and housed as cheaply as possible. Meanwhile, private prison company executives receive multi-million dollar paychecks as well as profits for shareholders who will never suffer any negative consequences. And it doesn’t help that they’re receiving government subsidies and tax perks funded by the general public who suffers. Not to mention, since many states rely private prison companies to self-report, they have figured ways to make themselves look clean in the eyes of the state regardless what’s really happening at their facilities. Sure private prisons might operate under corporate oversight but as with most corporations, these companies will never voluntarily shape up unless there’s more government intervention. And so far, there has been little government oversight.

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While it’s very apparent that social problems and flaws in the criminal justice system lead to mass incarceration, private prisons profit from them and have no incentive to fix them. In fact, a lot of their lobbying efforts have been a major stumbling block in criminal justice reform. And it’s costing our tax dollars in the process.

12. Privatized prisons profit from existing problems in the criminal justice system and society and give no incentive to solve them. -While public prisons do carry a heavy taxpayer burden as well as are facing problems such as overcrowding and high recidivism, at least public investment and government oversight gives incentives to solve such problems in the penal system. After all, a government owned prison system that’s funded by taxpayers helps promote measures aimed at reforming prisoners and reducing crime. And that’s how it should be. However, the private prison industry is only held accountable to their investors, shareholders, and benefactors who’s only concern are profits. And the private prison industry profits by making sure that more people are put in jail. When making a pitch to potential investors, CCA is quick to point out that private prisons comprise of a unique, recession-resistant investment opportunity, with more than 90% of the market up for grabs, little competition, high recidivism, and the potential for future growth in the prison population. As CCA reported in 2014, “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them. … Legislation has been proposed in numerous jurisdictions that could lower minimum sentences for some non-violent crimes and make more inmates eligible for early release based on good behavior.” It’s no surprise that the private prison industry has no interest in reforming prisoners or reducing crime like ending ex-con job discrimination, decriminalizing marijuana, reducing the system’s racist impact on minorities, and any other policies that cut into their profits. As long as these problems persist, the private prison industry will be all too willing to exploit this country’s systematic social problems in the name of profit. What our criminal justice system needs is reform, not incentive for expansion.

Private Prison Giants and Their Activities

This infographic shows the kind of issues the private prison companies have lobbied for over the years. You might notice that none of them pertain to prisoner rehabilitation. That’s because they’re not interested in reforming prisoners because it hurts their profits. And it should be no surprise to any of us that private prisons have high recidivism rates. Their business model was constructed that way.

13. Privatized prisons have no incentive to rehabilitate prisoners.– Because public prisons are funded by taxpayers and run by governments, they always have an incentive to rehabilitate prisoners before release so they won’t wind up in jail again. And while such systems are significantly flawed and not always effective, at least public investment encourages public prisons to have more responsibility in inmate welfare, rehabilitation, and public safety. But for private prison companies, their primary responsibility is generating profits for shareholders through incarcerating as many people as possible, as long as possible, and as cheaply as possible. Under such a system, it’s very difficult or outright impossible for the private prison industry to be genuinely concerned for the welfare of inmates, let alone their rehabilitation. After all, to them, reforming a prisoner is just making them less likely to function as a future source of profit. Not to mention, private prison companies have little incentive to release an inmate early, regardless how well they’ve behaved since it would reduce their cash flow. As for providing treatment, why bother if it means losing a customer?

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In 2010, rival gangs rioted at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility which resulted in 6 hospitalizations, including one with permanent brain damage. Since the MTC owned prison had a staff to prison ratio of 1/120, they just sat there and waited until the fight ended. In 2014, there were 2 riots that sent 18 and 4 inmates to the hospital respectively.

14. Privatized prisons have are poorly staffed with poorly trained and paid employees.– Evidence suggests that for-profit prisons are chronically understaffed, inadequately trained, and underpaid. And when you combine this with such prisons rapidly expanding, things are bound to get ugly which could put the prisoners’ and the employees’ safety in jeopardy. This is one of the reasons why privatized prisons have increased incidences of violence and escapes. A lot of times private prisons are so poorly run that they simply can’t find enough officers and other employees. Turnover rates are significantly higher. It’s not surprising since assaults on guards by inmates are 49% more frequent than in state run prisons. And it’s said that private prison employees are paid an average of 21% less than their state employed counterparts according to a 2010 report by the US Department of Labor. However, some private prisons just don’t want to spend “extra” money in order to hire enough officers and staff members to adequately run them even as these places are rapidly expanding to house more inmates. Many also spend less money on training for correctional officers as well. The Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in Mississippi had a staff to prisoner ration of 1/120. When this prison experienced a riot in 2010, 6 inmates were rushed to the hospital, including one with permanent brain damage. During the riot, the staff just sat there and waited until the melee ended because there were 60 times more prisoners than staff. A lack of well trained and paid staff can also lead to corruption as there have been reports guards resorting to smuggling contraband for inmates. This could mean anything from T-shirts to cigarettes and knives or other weapons.

Quotas and Taxes

It’s very common for private prison companies to have contracts to guarantee prison occupancy rates and/or force taxpayers to pay empty beds. 90% is the most frequent occupancy requirement. Along with promoting harsher sentencing measures, private prisons are a huge contributor to mass incarceration.

15. Privatized prisons contribute to mass incarceration.-In 2012, CCA sent a letter to 48 states offering to buy their public prisons with promises that they have at least 1,000 beds and 90% occupancy for the next 20 years. In fact, nearly 2/3 of private prison contracts mandate that state and local governments maintain a certain occupancy rate usually 90% and require taxpayers to pay for empty beds. In Arizona, 3 private prisons are operating with a 100% occupancy guarantee. Such requirements by private prison companies are a common practice. Today crime rates are falling and the rate of incoming undocumented immigrants have leveled off. But today the US puts more people in prison than anywhere else on earth which is fueling a major crises. Such occupancy requirements by private prison companies only encourage this and have since the 1980s, especially since private prison inmate usually remain in jail longer. The fact these private prisons are profiting from the War on Drugs, undocumented immigration, as well as poor people being in desperate situations, ensures that mass incarceration is here to stay. And it also guarantees that the criminal justice system and public prisons will be swamped with more inmates than it would know what to do with.

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The private prison lobby has enormous influence in federal and state governments across the country as well as contributed millions to political candidates of both parties. In turn, these prison companies have advocated “tough on crime” measures like “Truth and Sentencing” and “Three Strikes” laws as well as anti-immigration and pro privatization policies.

16. Private prison industry lobbying have a corrupting influence on the policy. – Private prisons are a highly profitable business due to government payments and prison laborers forced to work for pennies on behalf of corporations like Boeing and McDonald’s. And like any corporation, these corrections companies have powerful lobbies in Washington contributing millions to political candidates. They also lobbied for policies advocating free-market privatization as well as “tough on crime” laws like “Truth in Sentencing” and “Three Strikes Law.” CCA has helped financed Proposition 6 in California in 2008 which would’ve placed additional penalties for drug crimes. And GEO Group lobbied for Jessica’s Law in 2006 which pertains to the treatment of sex offenders. As a lobby, private prison companies influence legislation for tougher, longer sentences. They’ve also supported Arizona’s highly controversial anti-illegal immigration law. Both GEO and CCA have engaged in initiatives to create new crimes, particularly nonviolent offenses like failure to pay fines for misdemeanor offenses in Missouri (that go to private collection agencies) or being unable to afford bail. And they have responded to criminal justice reform and leniency to nonviolent criminals with vociferous opposition. Nevertheless, while private prisons benefit through such policies, their public counterparts and everyone else doesn’t. It turns out Florida US Senator Marco Rubio is one of the private prison industry’s biggest beneficiaries and political champions. He is closely connected with The GEO Group and has hired a former trustee as an economic consultant and a former lobbyist as his chief of staff from that company. GEO was also a top 10 contributor to Rubio’s Reclaim America PAC with his chief of staff being a senior advisor. There’s no question that Rubio opposes immigration or criminal justice reform since GEO has given him $40,000 in campaign contributions, making him its top recipient in the Senate. And opposition to criminal justice reform should render any candidate woefully inadequate to lead a nation suffering from a prison system that essentially perpetuates the oppression of its most vulnerable citizens. Yet, today the private prison industry is the biggest lobby that’s getting little scrutiny. That should change.

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This is a picture of Sandy Fonzo of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania confronting former Luzerne County judge Mark Ciavarella. Her son committed suicide when caught in the infamous”kids for cash” scandal where 2 judges were paid $2.8 million by Mid-Atlantic Youth Services Corporation to send over 2,000 children to it’s 2 facilities on unusually long sentences for rather petty crimes. While the judges were eventually sentence to long prison terms, hundreds of young lives were ruined in the process. And tragically, it’s said that there’s considerable evidence that private prisons have a very corrupting influence in the criminal justice system.

17. Private prisons have a corrupting influence in the criminal justice system. – While the US criminal justice system is corrupt, prison privatization simply encourages incarceration for the sake of profits which doesn’t keep with the principles of justice in any way, shape, or form. One scandal that has illustrated this is the “kids for cash” atrocity in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. From 2003-2008, the Mid Atlantic Youth Services Corporation (a firm specializing in juvenile offenders), paid off 2 judges to jail youths and send them to their 2 private prison facilities. The 2 judges made over $2.6 million in the scam to by sending more than 2,000 kids to prison on unusually long sentences for incredibly petty crimes like stealing DVDs from Wal Mart, mocking a principal on Myspace, packing ibuprofen and trespassing in vacant buildings. Over 50% of the kids who appeared before Judge Mark Ciavarella lacked legal representation and 60% of those kids were removed from their homes. Luckily the 2 judges were sentenced to 17.5 and 28 years in federal custody but not without ruining thousands of young lives in the process. And there is evidence that private prisons tend to bribe judges at a regular basis. This kind of corruption might mean your DUI could turn into a maximum sentence if you can’t afford to hire the right lawyer. Since Florida privatized the entirety of its $183 million juvenile justice system, its Department of Juvenile Justice has been reported as effectively complicit in allowing problems to fester in its jails and is a failed system of oversight and accountability. State probes of mistreatment typically end with inconclusive evidence with only a quarter of cases ever being substantiated. And there is little incentive to crack down on contractors. Reform is also not likely to happen because so many Florida politicians have received money from juvenile prison companies that Governor Rick Scott challenged the “unsupported suggestion” that problems in Florida’s juvenile justice programs were systemic. Today Florida is failing its juvenile delinquents because it seems it doesn’t want to assume any responsibility for these troubled kids. The influence of private prisons can lead to a US criminal justice system based upon increasing the wealth and power of the corporate state, which isn’t fair when certain convictions guarantee payout. Our justice system should exist for the benefit of the public good, not for the financial benefit of a few corporations who house inmates for their bread and butter. And the fact many local and state judges are elected just makes it even worse.

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Recidivism is a huge problem in the prison system, especially when it leads to overcrowding. However, private prison companies see it as an asset to profit from. So they invest very little to almost nothing into a prisoner’s rehabilitation. Because why try to lose a customer?

18. Privatized prisons contribute to increased recidivism. – Despite claims that private prisons have lower recidivism rates, prisoners housed in private facilities are 40-60% more likely to return than their state run counterparts. It’s not surprising since private prisons have no incentive to rehabilitate the prisoners they house which makes them more susceptible to another prison sentence after they’re released. Across the country, recidivism is a major problem since it traps people in a vicious cycle of poverty, exploitation, and repeated offenses. Recidivism is a good reason to ban the box since convictions can prevent nonviolent ex-cons from getting a job that could keep them out of prison for good. Not to mention, recidivism leads to prison overcrowding. But for private prison companies, banning the box is bad business since their goal is to incarcerate more people in the name of profit. Other ways that private prisons encourage recidivism include limiting an inmate’s contact with family, offering a lack of educational options, and deficient rehabilitation programs. The fact that many of them charge inmates money for services like food and medical care also makes it difficult for them to get back on their feet after release.

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Today there are 10,500 state prisoners are transferred to private prisons outside their home state, possibly as far as 450-3,000 miles. Though seen as a solution to prison overcrowding, this practice is detrimental to the criminal justice system because it impedes a prisoner’s rehabilitation and destroys families and communities.

19. Privatized prisons lead to prisoners being incarcerated outside their own jurisdictions.– If someone commits a crime, they will be tried, convicted and sentenced there. And it’s generally expected that the punishment will play out close to home. However, with the rise of privatized prisons, some states have been seeking solutions to prison overcrowding by having some of their inmates shipped to out of state locations across the country. Today there are more than 10,500 state prisoners in for-profit prisons outside their own states, approximately 450-3,000 miles from their home state. And it’s mostly without the prisoners’ consent. One example is Vermont since it has only 7 in-state correctional facilities, it has contracted with private prison companies for years, sending prisoners to out of state locations. Today there are currently hundreds of individuals being held from New York, Arizona, Michigan, and Kentucky. California, Hawaii, and Idaho that also house their inmates out of state as well. However, while this practice of transferring inmates out of their jurisdictions is detrimental to the criminal justice system because it separates inmates from their loved ones and social connections with the outside world. Furthermore, transporting prisoners to a remote location puts them in unfamiliar surroundings despite that inmates do much better in rehabilitation when they’re incarcerated near their own home and families. Not to mention, travel for family and friends is often prohibitively expensive. It also costs money and communities as well as destroys families. There are also concerns about the difficulty of oversight.

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This is a satirical flyer pertaining to for-profit prisons. However, while the private prison industry is profitable, it’s an unethical business that carries very high social costs. But it’s one that’s seldom talked about which is just so tragic.

20. Privatized prisons carry higher social costs. – Incarceration doesn’t really make us safer when we jail nonviolent criminals. Nevertheless, dealing with crime brings a lot of social costs that we need to talk about because they’re almost never discussed. There are the social costs such as broken families and communities of both victims and perpetrators. There are the hidden financial costs like paying for foster care for prisoners’ children (particularly if they’re single women) as well as what we’ll pay again when a prisoner emerges more desperate, addicted, uneducated, and disenfranchised than they went in. Then there’s the political costs of a society that seeks vengeance through prisons and punishment that will cost us twice the price of ensuring true equality, opportunity, and social health at the roots of our society. Private prisons will only increase such costs.

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In conclusion, the existence of for-profit prisons only benefits the companies who own them through profiting on mass incarceration. Despite being wildly profitable, it is a business of total moral bankruptcy that hurts inmates and their families, scams communities, corrupts legal systems, and wastes taxpayer money. It is an industry that does nothing to protect the public or save money in any way. Thus, the private prison industry shouldn’t have a right to exist because its existence is a national shame.

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4 responses to “Justice Is Not for Sale: Why the Private Prison System Must Go

  1. Wow- this is terrible. And it doesn’t save money either. Talk about the rule of unintended consequences. I hope that there is a special place in Hell for people who are profiting from the misery of others.

  2. Thanks so much for writing this. I couldn’t read it all…too painful. There’s so much mess in the world, it’s hard to breathe.
    But Im hoping and believing were almost at the end of things. Because the more we find out how jacked up everything is, the less we want to be content with this world as is. Let’s stay Fired Up and make a difference wherever our heart is crying out!

  3. Pingback: Jesus: Homeless Refugee Moocher, Not Welcome in Today’s Church? | Heart in Formation

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