My previous blog post (“Prison Punishment as Profitable Business“) noted the growth of private prisons in the U.S. Private corporations such as GEO Group, Core Civic (formerly CCA—Corrections Corporation of America), Cornell, and Wackenhut promise they can provide prison space at less cost. Influence and lobbying efforts by private prison executives have been directed at legislative changes to put more people behind bars for longer sentences.
Private prisons in the U. S. incarcerated 128,063 people in 2016– 8.5% of the total state and federal prison population. Since 2000 private prison populations have increased 47%. (See “Prison Punishment as a Private Business” and “The Sentencing Project” for more details.)
Arguments for Abolishing Private Prisons. In-depth studies of the operation of private prisons led the Presbyterian Church [PC(USA)] to recommend abolishing state and federal contracts with private prison corporations. There are practical and ethical arguments against private corporations administering criminal sentences for state and federal courts for profit.
- The profit motive influences all parts of prison administration and operation.
- Hiring and training qualified employees.
- Providing food services, education and treatment services, recreation, prisoner training, prison industries, and more.
- Intake decisions, release, and transfer of prisoners to maintain prison population within capacity limits.
- For State & Federal prisons, recidivism is a failure; private prisons want returned prisoners for greater profit !
- Private prison policies contradict the principle of incarceration as a last resort for violent and repeat offenders only.
- Private prison industry’s goals are to promote their own interests, not those of the state, society, or offenders.
- They lobby for prison sentences for more offenders; for longer prison terms; against alternatives to incarceration; and for mandatory sentences for victimless crimes.
Private Prison Corporations Promise They Can Run Jails & Prisons at Lower Costs
- The claim is not true; there are hidden costs involved.
- Private prison corporations redistribute how existing funds are allocated with prison systems.
- To pay corporate executives more than government executives they cut costs elsewhere.
- They claim they “do it better” but cut services to prisoners; cut employee wages & benefits; cut the number of employees.
- They spend millions of dollars lobbying legislators for laws and policies that will favor private prisons, including increasing prison sentences for more offenders & increasing sentence lengths.
Private Prison Corporations’ Profit Motive Goes Against “What is Right & Just”
- According to the Courts, private prisons risk violations of Federal & Supreme Court guidelines for prisons.
- The U.S. Supreme Court ordered certain minimum prison conditions under the 8th Amendment requirement against “cruel & unusual punishment”.
- Prison industry’s goals contradict the stated aims of the church and prison reformers regarding punishment and restorative justice.
- The Church and prison reformers hold that the goal of prison is to rehabilitate and restore offenders.
- For the private prison industry rehabilitation is not a goal but a threat to profit and continuing success of the industry.
Examples of Private Prison Abuses
- A court awarded the family of a 15-year-old boy $3 million for physical abuse by CCA staff in South Carolina for an entire year of physical abuse.
- Doctors found boot marks on the face of an asylum seeker held in a CCA detention center in Elizabeth, NJ.
- Juvenile girls were repeatedly raped by guards in a Wackenhut facility in Coke County, TX (the company agreed to settle a lawsuit without publicly accepting responsibility).
- U.S. Justice Dept. sued the state of Louisiana & Wackenhut Corrections for subjecting juveniles to “excessive abuse and neglect“.
- Multiple cases of sexual misconduct & violence were found by guards in Santa Fe, NM jail run by Cornell Corrections.
- A Cornell guard was indicted on 5 counts for having sexual intercourse with a female inmate; another guard was fired after a 15-year-old girl accused him of molesting and raping her.
- Another Cornell guard was arrested for forcing a male prisoner to give him oral sex.
- A Cornell guard was accused of sexual misconduct by four women who were assaulted.
- Cornell Corrections hired a jail warden despite his being fired as the head of the state prison in Roswell, NM.
- Cornell paid workers of the Santa Fe County Jail 40% less than the state’s minimum wage.
- The City of Santa Fe refused to pay bills that were greatly inflated and submitted by Cornell for its jail operations.
- Cornell failed to release prisoners on time because they were dependent on the $65 per day they got. A State District Court Judge ordered timely release or transfer to another jail facility.
Examples of Medical Misconduct by Private Facilities
- A young African-American man died of pneumonia while serving a 6-year sentence for forgery.
- A 23-year-old woman suffered for 12 hours in a CCA facility in Silverdale, TN from a pregnancy complication before officials took her to a hospital, where she died.
- Prisoners at Cornell’s Santa Fe Jail reported consistent problems obtaining prescribed medications and medical treatment.
- Oklahoma Dept. of Corrections levied a fine of $168,750 against Cornell’s Correctional Facility for inadequate medical care and withholding information from the state.
The primary purpose of jails, detention centers and prisons is to assure offenders’ court appearance, for public safety, and to carry out a court sentence. Security and order maintenance are the primary goals, preventing assaults against officers and fellow inmates and escape attempts. Reform, education, training, and rehabilitation are secondary. Under U.S. Supreme Court rulings however, all jails and corrections facilities must comply with guidelines under the 8th Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment.
State Departments of Corrections and the Federal Bureau of Prisons work hard to comply with court standards for prison operations. Administrators and corrections staff are qualified, experienced, and well-trained to meet these standards. Evidence shows that the private for-profit prisons often fail to meet those same standards. We deserve better.