Diversity, Inc. has come out with two fantastic articles that detail how the private prison industry has helped contribute to the US far and away leading the world in its rate of incarceration. We lock up more than one out of every 100 adults in this country, and more than 1 out of every 31 are in prison, or on probation or parole. We have more people in prison, in both real numbers and percentage-wise, than Russia, North Korea, Iraq, or any other country in the world. We have over 1 million more people in prison than China, despite the fact that they have more than 4 times our population. And all this amidst the fact that rates of crime are actually dropping across the country. So what happened?
The private prison industry happened. After it was nearly crushed out, for a second time, in the late 90s following a series of abuses, lawsuits, and mismanagement, the industry was resurrected (largely) by the immigration detention boom that took place over the past decade and a half. After CCA and GEO had worked through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to increase penalties for repeat felons and drug offenders in the 80s and 90s, in the late 90s and early 2000s they began to focus on immigration. Both companies lobby the federal government and state governments, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, on immigration issues. Additionally, both work with ALEC to promote and pass model legislation like SB1070, which guarantees them a steady flow of more and more prisoners for their beds. The other article on Diversity, Inc. delves much deeper into the connections each company has with ALEC, and how they have used this conservative front group to promote their anti-American agenda. (Yes, it's anti-American, because they're trying to incarcerate as many of us as possible, regardless of whether its sensible or moral to do so.)
As today's title link points out, the privateers exploited the poor planning of government agencies who passed tough-on-crime legislation but failed to build enough prison beds to handle the added capacity. Able to design and build facilities in half the time it takes the government, using private funds, CCA and GEO capitalized on a market that had a high demand and very little supply. As CCA's CEO readily admits, they want to continue to exploit those decisions in the future: "we have the salespeople and lobbyists pitching the benefits of privatization to the governors and legislators... they wake up one day and they don't have beds and will have to turn to the private sector."
Unfortunately, private prison companies, especially CCA and the GEO group, have a tremendous foothold on the industry, especially in immigration detention. By cultivating relationships with tough-on-crime and pro-business politicians, they have all but ensured their continued survival, and thriving, despite the fact that they have each established independent track records of negligence, abuse, contract noncompliance, and malfeasance. Simply put, there is no place in our criminal justice system that should lend itself to someone making a profit, especially the incarceration of American citizens. It's a sick, sick world out there.