Privatization of prisons in the U.S. began a few decades ago and has altered the prison system drastically in a relatively short period of time. More and more crimes have become punishable with incarceration, such as drug violations and petty theft. This has created an increased number of prisoners in the U.S. over the last few decades. In return, this has created a large prison system that allowed an opportunity for private institutions to step in and take a number of prisoners off the hands of the states for a profit. Since the creation of private prisons, prisoners have been turned over to private prisons to cut costs for state governments. However, there is inconclusive evidence that these are even more efficient. Questioning their effectiveness, today, there continues to be an increase in funds being dedicated to prison aid, even more than for education. All the while, these private institutions aim at the largest revenue possible, so basic amenities are reduced to a bare minimum. Even further, the influence of these institutions has grown to create a corrupt system that sends undeserving people into prison in order to maximize profits. The privatization of prisons has created a corrupt judicial system that treats human beings as commodities to be used for monetary gain.
According to The Sentencing Project, the number of prisoners in the United States has risen from around 400,000 in 1984 (when the first private prison was established) to around 1,500,000 in 2013. This would suggest that there is a correlation between the surge of private prisons and inmate population. This is supported by the fact that more crimes are being punished with incarceration than before. Even further, it has been found that some states, such as Arizona and Colorado, have made deals with their private prisons that they must keep their facilities at one hundred percent capacity. This is the type of corruption that private prisons create in the U.S. Another prime example of this type of corruption is from the Huffington Post. This article highlights a case where two judges in Pennsylvania received over 2.6 million dollars in a scandal where they were paid to send youths to prison for petty crimes. This shows how these institutions will do just about anything to get more prisoners in their facilities. With fraudulent actions such as these, there’s no wonder that the prison population has increased so much since the private prison industry took off.
As mentioned in the intro, private institutions have been known to purchase and take over prisons in towns that are suffering economically. These towns see this as an opportunity for immediate cash and instant jobs. However, one of these institutions has recently tried to purchase prisons from states and maintain them, with a catch. The states would be obligated to keep the facilities at ninety percent capacity at all times. This shows that these companies are not interested in helping the states or helping rehabilitate the inmates; they simply want to maximize their profits.
Surprisingly, the violent crime rate across the country has dropped over the last couple decades, while the number of prisoners continues to rise. How could this trend continue? According to Common Dreams, private institutions have been spending millions on lobbying for immigration laws to be made stricter, which would lead to more incarcerations, and increased profits. This has even lead to a quota being put on the number of immigrants in prisons at any given time. What does this say about the intentions of these institutions? They are taking advantage of refugee families simply because the number of native prisoners has taken a dip in recent years. This is a primary example of how private prisons treat people simply as commodities rather then human beings.
According to the Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison institution in the U.S., private prisons save taxpayer money by building faster, more efficiently, and running them more cost effectively. However, there have been research projects in Arizona that point towards the contrary. As reported by the NY Times, inmates in private prisons can cost “up to $1,600 more per year.” Not only is there any solid evidence that private prisons are cheaper, but also they have received more state funding in recent years. The governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, has even made a plan that cut over $75 million from public universities, while making sure to leave over $5 million for a new private prison. This shows these prisons being made a higher priority than education. Additionally, Governor Ducey received $10,500 for his campaign from interest groups that are associated with private prisons. These institutions are using the money they make off of prisoners to influence legislation to further enhance their power and influence on politics.
Even if it was assumed that private prisons do, in fact, reduce costs (which is not proven), the means by which they reduce costs are negligent to the inmates. This article from Soc Theory explains how private prisons cut costs by lowering food rations and disregarding the quality of security. The consequences of malnutrition are obvious, but the cheap guards may be even worse. As guards’ pay gets cut, there has been a trend of more homicide within prisons, both on guards and among prisoners. This is because these guards don’t know what their doing or simply don’t care enough to do things the right way. So, even in the facilities that may be less expensive, the consequences of a cheaper operation are not worth the extra profit.
“In my view, corporations should not be allowed to make a profit by building more jails and keeping more Americans behind bars. We have got to end the private-for-profit prison racket in America.” This is a quote taken from Bernie Sanders’ press conference back in September. Sanders is the presidential candidate that represents the dissenting view on private prisons. Also, Hillary Clinton has campaigned against private prisons recently, saying that it is time to “end the era of mass incarceration.” These two candidates have made points out of this issue that corporations should not be allowed to make a profit out of jailing Americans (Sanders) and that jailing immigrants shouldn’t be focused on making a profit (Clinton). The main argument against private prisons is that incarceration of the American people (and immigrants) should not be based on how many people can be jailed in order to maximize revenue.
Some argue that private prisons are simply more cost effective, and that is why they should be used. However, there are too many reports that suggest the contrary for either side to be inconclusively declared true. So, assuming public and private prisons cost the same (which is largely contradicted), the best way to look at it is their effectiveness. Recent reports have stated that private prisons hold inmates 4 to 7% longer than public prisons. Also, as stated previously, private prisons have been known to cut corners when it comes to facilities and workers. Based on effectiveness and morality alone, private prisons continue to prove to be an inferior method of incarceration.
In conclusion, private prisons have no desire to improve the prison system or help states reduce the cost of inmates. They use their profits to influence politics in their favor in order to gain more opportunities to increase revenue. Even though violent crimes have been reduced, the prisons continue to get more inmates through corrupt means to take advantage of youths and immigrants. Also, once their quotas are reached, basic services are cut short at the expense of the inmates and workers. Moreover, states are beginning to spend more money to support these prisons rather than education. Private institutions do nothing to better the prison or judiciary system in the U.S. and need to be eliminated from the system.