Private Prison Industry Feeds on Nation’s Crippling Addiction to Incarceration While Reaping Multi-Billion Dollar Revenues
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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today released a new report providing the first comprehensive analysis of the destructive impact of prison privatization.
The report, “Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration,” traces the rise of the for-profit prison industry over the past three decades and shows how private prison companies have capitalized on the nation’s addiction to incarceration to achieve gigantic profits. All the while, the report shows, mass incarceration wreaks havoc on communities by unnecessarily depriving individuals of their liberty, draining government resources and bringing little or no benefit to public safety.
“Our nation’s reliance on mass incarceration has bankrupted government budgets, torn families and communities apart, disproportionately impacted people of color, and provided no benefit to public safety,” said David Shapiro, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project and the author of the report. “But it has been a bonanza for the private prison industry, which rakes in billions of dollars a year and dishes out multi-million dollar compensation packages to its top executives. For-profit prison companies are a barrier to the kind of criminal justice reform that is desperately needed in America.”
Spurred by criminal laws that impose needlessly steep sentences – especially for low-level, non-violent offenders – and curtail rehabilitation opportunities, the United States today imprisons more people than any other nation in the world. The crippling cost of incarcerating increasing numbers of Americans has saddled government budgets with rising debt and exacerbated the current fiscal crisis confronting states across the nation. Yet the two largest private prison companies alone obtained nearly $3 billion in revenue in 2010.
While evidence that privatization saves taxpayers money is mixed at best, for-profit prison advocates continue to trot out privatization schemes as a supposed answer to budgetary woes confronting state governments.
• Arizona has announced plans to award 5,000 additional prison beds to private contractors despite a recent statement by the state’s auditor general that for-profit imprisonment in Arizona may cost more than incarceration in publicly operated facilities.
• Florida has attempted to increase its reliance on private prisons in a misguided attempt to reign in prisons costs despite concerns that doing so could impede more serious and fundamental changes, such as sentencing reform.
• The Louisiana legislature last year narrowly defeated a proposal pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal to sell off three state prisons to private companies after state legislators expressed deep concerns about doing so.
• Immigration and Customs Enforcement intends to create a new network of massive immigration detention centers, managed largely by private companies, even as allegations of sexual abuse in private facilities continue to surface. In August 2011, a security officer employed by a private prison company pled guilty to sexual abuse of a female detainee; in the following month another employee of a private prison company pled guilty to similar crimes.
Empirical studies may also show a heightened level of violence against prisoners in privately run institutions, a possible reflection of the higher rate of staff turnover in private prisons, which can result in inexperienced guards walking the tiers.
But despite serious questions about the wisdom of privatizing prison systems, some members of the for-profit prison industry are using shrewd tactics, including extensive lobbying, lavish campaign contributions and efforts to control information, to garner more and more government contracts and lock up ever-increasing numbers of people.
“It is imperative that we halt the expansion of for-profit incarceration,” said Shapiro. “The private prison industry helped create, and continues to feed off, the social ill of mass incarceration. Private prisons cannot be part of the solution – economic or ethical – to our nation’s addiction to incarceration.”
A copy of the report is available online at: