On the surface, the private prison industry seems like a great idea. Advocates for private prisons argue that the use of these facilities can free up space in poorly funded state prisons, cost less to operate, and still hold the security and safety of inmates and staff at top priority. Unfortunately, that’s not how it usually works out. Large corporations like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) , are looking to make a profit at the end of the day. They have shareholders just like any other major corporation and have to answer to them and make sure their needs are met before worrying about important issues such as the living conditions for the inmates housed in their facilities. The thought of these private prisons making a profit from criminals housed there is troubling for me given that the United States already has the highest number of people incarcerated in the entire world. (Altarnet, 2003) The U.S. spends more on locking up offenders, a large portion of them being held for non-violent crimes, than we do public education.
CCA has given the Republican Party more than $100,000 since 1997 and spends hundreds of thousands each election cycle to build support for their causes. Some even argue that recent immigration bills, such as the one passed in Arizona, were actually written by private prison organizations that stand to make a profit with more people they’re able to put behind bars. Prisons are being built all over the country for the sole purpose of housing illegal immigrants.
In 2007 a 464-bed facility in Hardin, Montana was built and is still vacant today. As a means to an end, Hardin officials even agreed to have prisoners from Guantanamo Bay occupy the $27 million building. The promise of jobs and more money flowing into their local economy from that facility seem unlikely at this time. Studies have shown that when these private prisons are built, the town it’s in sees only a small profit compared to the corporations, CCA, The GEO Group, and Community Education Centers, who last year alone brought in over $1 billion each. The presence of these prison can sometimes keep away legitimate businesses that could actually thrive and benefit the tax-payers way more than an empty prison. (http://www.npr.org/2011/11/05/142058047/who-benefits-when-a-private-prison-comes-to-town)
Another problem with private prisons is that they claim to cost less than regular facilities. It’s true in some cases, but they cost less to run because they don’t pay their employees as much, causing high turnover rates for correctional officers, and ultimately making these prisons more dangerous. They don’t have nearly enough staff for the amount of prisoners housed there and also lack necessary training skills to deal with hostile situations, such as riots and escape attempts. Also, if they go bankrupt, they face the possibility of releasing violent offenders onto the street prematurely or transporting them to other facilities, all on the tax-payers dime. Studies that compare for-profit and non-profit prisons aren’t taking into account that the private facilities usually house lower-level offenders.
CCA and GEO Group would like to add more definitions of crime to keep their business booming. Laws like Three Strikes or Truth in sentencing guarantees that the beds in these facilities are always full. If conservative religious groups don’t agree with your policies, you know you’re doing something wrong.