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Perhaps the Saddest Profit Motive Ever

Mishi Faruqee,
Juvenile Justice Policy Strategist,
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November 4, 2013

In Pennsylvania, there are two companies called PA Child Care LLC and Western PA Child Care. You might think that these companies offer services and supports to kids to help them become productive adults. You’d be wrong.

These companies offered kickbacks to two Luzerne County, PA judges in exchange for these judges contracting with the company and sentencing 6,500 teenagers to spend time in two for-profit youth prisons these companies run. And although the two judges found guilty of accepting bribes are now serving prison terms themselves, the two private youth prisons remain open and continue to profit from incarcerating children in Pennsylvania.

PA Child Care LLC and Western PA Child Care are both subsidiaries of Mid-Atlantic Youth Services Corp, just one of the many for-profit companies making large sums of money from locking up kids.

Another major market player is Youth Services International (YSI), a company that has built a lucrative youth prison business despite a startling record of abuse in its institutions. A recent two-part investigation by the Huffington Post found that kids confined in YSI facilities “frequently faced beatings, neglect, sexual abuse and unsanitary food over the past two decades,” while public officials turned a blind eye to the company’s harmful practices. And other corporations – with similarly innocuous sounding names like Cornerstone, G4S Youth Services and Mid-Atlantic Youth Services – are profiting from operating youth prisons with troubled histories in at least 12 states. The notorious GEO group, that runs some of the most deplorable adult prisons in the U.S., also operates a youth division with 12 youth prisons in five states.

The juvenile justice system is meant to rehabilitate young people and offer services and supports so that they can become healthy and productive adults. Private for-profit prisons squarely undermine good juvenile justice practices because these companies’ business models predicate high incarceration and recidivism rates for kids so that they can continue to fill beds in their facilities. This might be the saddest profit motive ever.

Private prison corporations are focused on their bottom line, meaning they pay lower wages to facility staff and offer fewer services to incarcerated youth, and often with less public oversight. As a result, young people confined in private for-profit prisons are often subject to unsafe conditions, where violence and abuse are prevalent. The U.S. Department of Justice found that two private for-profit prisons were among those with highest rates of sexual victimization of youth of all juvenile facilities in the U.S. Of course, it is important to note that staff misconduct and abuse occur in state-run institutions as well. However, it is all the more deplorable when individuals and corporations are making money from young people’s suffering.

Incarceration hampers kids’ future life prospects and increases recidivism. Recognizing this, most states have dramatically reduced the number of children behind bars and embraced community-based alternatives to incarceration instead. And several private companies – including the goliath Correctional Corporation of America and a much smaller but also troubled company known as Community Education Centers — have pulled out of the juvenile prisons business. On Wednesday of last week, the Georgia Department of Justice announced that it will end its contract with Youth Service International to operate the Paulding youth prison. This is good news but we need to call on every state to close all facilities that profit from incarcerating children.

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