The ACLU has released a new report ‘Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration‘ which documents what they call the ‘spoils’ of the US having the world’s highest rates of imprisonment.
The report focuses on the private prison industry, which has grown to be worth billions over the past few decades. It is the first comprehensive study of this kind of privatization.
It documents how, over the past four decades, imprisonment in the United States has increased explosively to 2.3 million. The imprisonment rates have grown due to new criminal laws that impose bigger and bigger sentences and cut short any opportunities to earn probation and parole.
Record imprisonment rates disproportionately affect people of color, and has, the report shows, “at best a minimal effect on public safety.” Record incarceration is also massively impacting government budgets, leading to rising debt and worsening the fiscal crises confronting states.
Privatization is supposed to cut costs but the report demonstrates this does not follow.
In Arizona, a plan to privatize more prison places has been shown by the Arizona Auditor General to cost more than incarceration in publicly-operated facilities. In that state, only the Department of Corrections has not had its budget cut — and the report points out that the Governor has had huge donations from private prison employees and corporate officers and former private prison lobbyists work in her administration.
Last year, a National Public Radio investigation found that the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), one of the two leading for-profit prison companies, played a pivotal role in conceiving, writing and naming the law that would become SB 1070, the ‘papers please’ law. Together with other companies, it identifies immigrant detention as a strategic area of their growth plan.
In September, a Florida court stopped the Department of Corrections from implementing the privatization of prisons in 18 counties, saying:
“[t]he decision to issue only one [request for proposal] and only one contract for all 29 prison facilities [subject to proposed privatization] was based on convenience and speed, … rather than on any demonstrated savings or benefit advantage.”
A former managing director of CCA is now head of Ohio’s corrections department — and that state recently announced that it will become the first state in the nation to sell a publicly operated prison to a private company.
In Louisiana, an attempt to sell three public prisons was narrowly blocked in the State House of Representatives.
Ryan West noted in Louisiana Progress that the details of that deal meant:
“Essentially, the sale of each prison is no more than a loan of $33 million from the private companies that the state will repay over time, thus pushing our financial obligations to the next generation.”
Federally, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has, according to one report, nearly half of all immigrants detained by the federal government in a network of priavtely run detention centers.
The report says:
Tactics employed by some private prison companies, or individuals associated with the private prison industry, to gain influence or acquire more contracts or inmates include: use of questionable financial incentives; benefiting from the “revolving door” between public and private corrections; extensive lobbying; lavish campaign contributions; and efforts to control information.
CCA actually said in their 2010 Annual Report:
“The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by . . . leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices . . . .”
The GEO Group, the second largest private prison operator, identiﬁed similar “Risks Related to Our Business and Industry” in SEC ﬁlings:
“Our growth depends on our ability to secure contracts to develop and manage new correctional, detention and mental health facilities, the demand for which is outside our control …. [A]ny changes with respect to the decriminalization of drugs and controlled substances could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, sentenced and incarcerated, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them. Similarly, reductions in crime rates could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities. Immigration reform laws which are currently a focus for legislators and politicians at the federal, state and local level also could materially adversely impact us.”
Private facilities have also been linked to atrocious conditions, which have been blamed in part on increased staff turnover compared to public facilities. And the report notes that the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case that could, depending on the outcome, prevent federal prisoners in private institutions from seeking compensation for constitutional violations — including deliberate indifference to prisoners’ physical well being.
The report points out that in the business of locking people up, there is an incentive to cut costs and maximize profits and no incentive to rehabilitate inmates and reduce future crime.
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