BRIEFING: For-Profit Prisons

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Crime is going down in America, but more Americans than ever are in prison—and more and more money is being spent and made turning this country into a giant armed camp.

At WhoWhatWhy, we know you’re busy. So we’re going to give you the key points here in bullet form (links in box at bottom):

-America’s system of detaining and monitoring “criminals” impacts more people than ever before. Including those who are either in some form of incarceration or in the parole and probation process, you’re looking at an affected population of….six million. One out of every 100 Americans is behind bars now. And every year, about 13 million Americans spend some time in jail for at least a brief spell.

-State legislators faced with dwindling revenues are eager to offload inmates to “cheap” private facilities

-The private prison industry grew 350 percent over the past fifteen years.

– Two private companies – Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group– dominate the private prison industry. The biggest company, Corrections Corporation of America, is offering to buy prisons from states as long as they can promise an adequate supply of prisoners to make the deal worthwhile.

-Studies show that private facilities perform badly compared to public ones on almost every metric—prevention of intra-prison violence, jail conditions, rehabilitation efforts—except reducing state budgets and adding to the corporate bottom line.

To keep their gravy train rolling, private prison companies need a few things from state and local government:

1) Lots of people arrested and convicted (often of essentially victimless crimes) and given long sentences. This most heavily impacts young black males—about one in nine of whom is in prison, many for using or selling marijuana, or, to a lesser degree, harder drugs. (Although whites have comparable drug use rates, their prosecution rates are dramatically lower.)

2) Opposition to the decriminalization of drug use, which would cut sharply into prison industry profits. (As a result, it ain’t going to happen.)

3) The continued criminalization and detention of undocumented foreigners.

With serious crime rates dropping, the US has fewer and fewer of the hardest-core (mostly male) criminals who were once prime targets for incarceration. To replace them, the private prison industry needs more young people, more women and (thanks to the immigration snatch game) more children as fodder for detention facilities.

The privatization of prisons is yet another instance of how small-government advocates are driving more and more of our lives into the hands of companies whose only objective is to turn a profit – without concern for larger social consequences. When public services like incarceration are handled as cheaply as possible, terrifying outcomes can result, including, in this case, unnecessary harm to minor offenders, the hardening of minor offenders into serious criminals, and calls for still more draconian law enforcement and punishment protocols, whose main justification is to keep those for-profit prisons filled.

How bad can it get? A private detention company in Pennsylvania bribed two judges to order youths imprisoned

Read more on the for-profit prison industry at these links:

The New Yorker


The Nation

Huffington Post


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14 responses to “BRIEFING: For-Profit Prisons”

  1. Eddie says:

    The idea that somehow people who advocate small government are responsible for this problem is lacking in all understanding of the problem.  The whole problem is not that there is not enough money, its that there are to many laws and to many things are illegal.  If doing drugs wasn’t a crime, these “small time offenders” would not be in prison. And the government wouldn’t be spending billions of dollars fighting a war on drugs it can’t win.  If we relied more on communities to care for themselves and only locked up the small minority of people who are truly a danger to society and not just themselves then we wouldn’t be in this mess.  Folks like me, who advocate small government, recognize that these problems we are seeing are symptoms of a much larger problem of a government that has replaced God in the eyes of the people.  The problem is government is not God, and it will and is failing. The problem is big government not private corporations, although private corporations with government protection certainly are a problem

  2. TB says:

    I rather doubt these two firms would want to see an effective criminal rehabilitation methodology like Criminon succeed.

  3. Hardinblack says:

    Stop regulating sex between adults! That’s one way to to alleviate the resources, and taxation on concentration camps because if you study all legal systems, half of the laws are for regulating sex  (Rape laws, and sexual harassment, etc), and the other half are for regulating money.  Get rid of monogamy, and the monetary system, and that put governments out of business!

  4. $24508962 says:

    I wonder what would happen if the inmates would just refuse to accept their fate as slaves and refuse to work?

    Or… What would make superior market sense to the Fed and States would be to mandate market wages commensurate with job/qualifications, create a State Central Bank where 90% (?) of the taxed wages would be deposited in saving accounts. Moneys to be withdrawn only upon release from prison.

    More? Provide on-the-job training by creating trade-schools so that the inmates, upon release can find jobs and help themselves from returning to prison.

    Perhaps a visit to Norway could teach State officials what a humane prison can do to the inmates and society? 

    Or this country goes into full competition with the now-defunct Soviet Russia: an economy dependent on gulags and forced labour. It didn’t quite work for the USSR, why would anyone think it’ll work here?

  5. Every man to the aid of his country.  It’s our duty to help government by thinking of more arrestable offenses.  Forget decrim.  Add MORE drugs to the prohibited list:  tobacco, and alcohol alone should generate a good million or two every year to the prison industrial complex.  And if we seize their property, THAT will really help Uncle Sam in his time of need.  Other family members can be arrested too on the Zero Tolerance clause, or sold into slavery for a quick buck.  Or fed to the lions in the Colosseum if they’re old or useless.

  6. Bryan Carosi says:

    Too many of our young generation are to pussified and want to roll over and conform to what our Tyrannical Overlords want. What happened to the “Home of the Brave?” We won’t be a land of free people until we take this country back. L.&L. Refresh the Tree of Liberty!

  7. Rob says:

    This is also part of a larger picture. That being the seemingly endless War on Drugs that has been in full force for a generation now. There are a lot of powerful forces that profit from the criminalization of drugs, including the private prison industry. 

    I watched Russ’s interview on RT about this issue. They started by mentioning that Wells Fargo was an investor in this industry but didn’t  go into any more details. I’ve heard that many of the big Wall Street banks are involved in money laundering so it would be interesting to learn more about any involvement in the for profit prison industry. Glenn Greenwald at Salon did a piece on Wells Fargo’s investment into GEO which is interesting too. ( See Salon link at bottom of article )

    The same interviewer with RT also spoke with Axel Caballero on this issue. It really leaves you with the sense that the government is of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations. 

    One last thing and then I’ve got to get back to work. Andrew Gavin Marshall is doing some very interesting work on the race and slavery issue where he touches on the prison industry as well. He has a peoples’ book project that he is currently working on. The entry I’m thinking of here is An Empire of Poverty: Race, Punishment, and Social Control. For those interested in a bigger picture perspective I think its worth a read. 

  8. jimmmmmy says:

    This is not a new idea . Private prison systems evolved after so called “reconstruction” in the South into what was called Peony. This allowed blacks to be picked up jailed and the rented to industries or farms. This system was in place until after  WW2.The only adjustment is that now white dope smokers are targeted for the slave camps as well as people of color.

  9. cheap labor? says:

    Doesn’t this also create slave labor? I think I read somewhere that inmates are literally paid pennies per hour to produce commercial products…