Prison Privatization

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced it will not be renewing contracts with private corporations running prisons, eliminating over 22,000 beds or 12 percent of the total incarcerated population in the United States.  This follows years of research indicating that these private institutions do not save the federal government money, as promised. While financial and safety reasons appear to be driving the decision by Department of Justice, they have not taken a position on the issue of corporations profiting from keeping people behind bars.

In 1984, the first privately owned prison opened for business in Tennessee.  The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) was started by businessmen who saw an opportunity to capitalize on the overcrowded state prison system.   The belief was that privatization would decrease costs for the federal and state governments.   Increased reliance on video surveillance instead of correction officers as well as lower wages for facility staff were some of the cost saving measures employed by CCA.

Today, those measures are still in place, in addition to a few others intended to reduce costs at prisons run by private corporations.  The Department of Justice has found that in addition to lower wages and a reduction in correction officers, the private prisons offer less training for staff and have a higher ratio of inmates to correction officers.  The Department of Justice has determined these cost cutting measures have resulted in “greater security and safety risk to inmates and staff, without producing substantial savings.”

The Department of Justice has determined private prisons do not meet the financial goals of the federal government. As taxpayers, we must know that private prisons are not saving us money. However, Our concern as taxpayers and as citizens, should be focused on the issue of allowing private companies to profit from keeping citizens in prison.

Six percent of state prisoners and sixteen percent of federal prisoners are housed in private, for profit prisons. Between private, state, and Department of Justice run facilities, there are just over 1.5 million people held in prisons in the United States. Just over 50 percent of the prison population in the United States has been incarcerated for drug offenses, 30 percent of which are for marijuana.  Just over 10 percent of inmates have immigration law violations.

The top two offenses, drugs and immigration, account for more than 60 percent of the prison population and a change in either state or federal law to all more movement of either drugs and immigrants in the United States would reduce the number of people in prison and eventually compromise the profits made by private prisons.

 To combat this, the two largest prison companies in the United States, CCA and The GEO Group are covering their political bases because it is in their corporate self -interest to have tough drug and immigration laws.  In their 2014 Annual Report, CCA is quoted as saying  “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.They have contributed a combined $267,000 to presidential candidates this election in an attempt to lobby for their financial safety. PACs that supported Marco Rubio’s bid for the republican nomination received a combined $133,000 in contributions. Rubio’s conservative stance on the legalization of recreational marijuana as well as immigration reform support private prison lobbyists attempts to maintain the legal status quo on these issues. PACs supporting Hillary Clinton received almost the same amount, around $133,000 in contributions during her bid for the democratic nomination this election even though she has publically opposed private prisons.  Clearly, the private prison lobby wants to maintain a position in the conversation that will decide their future, no matter the political party in power.

The Department of Justice has taken a public position on the future use of private companies in regard to federal prisons. IN addition to eliminating them on the federal level, the DOJ need to strongly encourage the states to take the same stance, as it is in the best interest of the US citizenry to eliminate private prisons. TO do so, the DOJ must publicly acknowledge that these companies are not only less cost efficient and profiting from higher incarceration rates, but will continue to support lawmakers who will uphold current non violent criminal laws.

This article was written by Erin Benton, a writer for dusk magazine. 


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