Private Prisons in America
This is the first of a two-part series that critiques the privatization of the prison industrial complex in America.
PACKING PRISONS IN THE NAME OF PROFIT
The goal of incarceration today is much more than punishment of the offender. The objective has changed and the rules are different. Historically, incarceration claimed to serve the purpose of penalizing and rehabilitating the law-breaker. Today, many prisons are run by revenue-generating, earnings-raising, for-profit corporations.
Private prisons were birthed in the 1980's as the ‘War on Drugs’ caused the seams to split in the nation’s overcrowded prisons. Fueled by the thirst for harsher sentencing and mandatory minimum sentences pushed by both republican and democratic campaigns, private prisons rose both in popularity and in net earnings.
Two days after Donald Trump clinched the presidential election, the nation’s largest private prison companies, CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America) and GEO Group, surged in the stock market. According to Bloomberg, shares in GEO’s stock value increased by 18% and CoreCivic’s stock value exploded by 60% following President Trump’s win.
Why the sudden increase in market value?
The answer is twofold: First, private prisons, which were denounced under the Obama administration, were revived following President Trump’s “tough on crime” platform. Two months after President Trump’s inauguration, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed President Obama’s policies to end federal private prison contracts.
Second, both CoreCivic and GEO reportedly spend millions in political campaigns and lobbying efforts. Since 1989, CoreCivic and GEO have reportedly funneled 10 million dollars to their candidates of choice. In turn, favorable legislation is written to ensure their survival, and politicians dole out contracts to these corporations to ensure their facilities are full. The current count of private prisons in this country is roughly 130 such facilities.
On its face, a privately run company stepping in to ease prison overcrowding seems benign, perhaps benevolent. Entrepreneurship has always been the bedrock of this country. But what happens when a corporation’s revenue is based on the number of convicted humans it can be house?
Private prisons’ market share on inmates in this country is invasive: CoreCivic and GEO confine juveniles, state inmates, as well as federal inmates around this country.
Private prisons’ grip on immigration is capacious: Today, 62% of immigration detainees in this country, whether held on criminal charges or not, are warehoused in private prisons. In fact, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security are the largest contractors of private prisons.
What is the financial bottom line? Private prisons charge upwards of $250 per head. By 2015, CoreCivic and GEO reported they earned well over 3 billion dollars in revenue in that year alone.
Private prisons exist solely to make money. They do so by keeping their beds stocked.
And like any good business model, domination of revenue and accumulation of the most products are the successful markings of the billionaire corporations that pack in inmates for the sake of profit.