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Prison Path

Private vs. Public Correctional Facilities – Revisited



According to the following article, the inmate population has increased in private prisons by 1664 percent during the period of 1990 – 2009. As in our original post, there is a connection between private prisons, profit, increased prison population, racism, and recidivism. The adherents of prison privatization argue that a need is fulfilled by private facilities. A realistic assessment of private prisons cannot ignore one simple fact—private prisons are managed for profit. Where profit is involved, there is always pressure on management to increase profit every year. This pressure or just simple greed will result in cutting corners. The desire to rehabilitate decreases as recidivism increases. Dr. Lisa Wade has reported on this growing controversial issue.

In 1984, the U.S. began its ongoing experiment with private prisons. Between 1990 and 2009, the inmate population of private prisons grew by 1,664%. Today approximately 130,000 people are incarcerated by for-profit companies. In 2010, annual revenues for two largest companies — Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group — were nearly $3 billion.

Companies that house prisoners for profit have a perverse incentive to increase the prison population by passing more laws, policing more heavily, sentencing more harshly, and denying parole. Likewise, there’s no motivation to rehabilitate prisoners; doing so is expensive, cuts into their profits, and decreases the likelihood that any individual will be back in the prison system. Accordingly, state prisons are much more likely than private prisons to offer programs that help prisoners: psychological interventions, drug and alcohol counseling, coursework towards high school or college diplomas, job training, etc.

What is good for private prisons, in other words, is what is bad for individuals, their families, their communities, and our country.

This is a deeply unethical system. New research shows that, in addition to being disproportionately incarcerated, racial minorities and immigrants are disproportionately housed in private prisons. Looking at three states with some of the largest prison populations — California, Texas, and Arizona – graduate student Christopher Petrella reports that racial minorities are over-represented in private prisons by an additional 12%.

This means that, insofar as U.S. state governments are making an effort to rehabilitation the prison population, those efforts are disproportionately aimed at white inmates. Petrella argues that this translates into a public disinvestment in the lives of minorities and their communities.

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Terri LeClercqTony Young Recent comment authors
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Tony Young

In the article it was mentioned that private prisons are more interested in fewer paroles, etc. . My question is this: are the prisoners in the private prison under the authority of the State Corrections Department; aren’t the private prisons more or less just a “housing authority”?

Terri LeClercq

A public defender told me this weekend that the worse-of the-worse prison he’s seen is a private prison in the panhandle of Texas. Disgusting facilities, cruel guards, stupid procedures. There’s no oversight, of course, because it is not controlled by the state.