Dollars and Detainees: The Growth of For-Profit Detention…

is the name of a new report from Cody Mason of The Sentencing Project:

In 2010, one in every 13 prisoners in the U.S. was held by for-profit companies, despite evidence that private prisons often provide inadequate levels of service and are no more cost-effective than publicly-run facilities. In addition, private prisons operate on a business model that emphasizes profits over the public good, and benefit from policies that maintain America’s high incarceration rate.
Nonetheless, these companies could count on predictable growth in the number of state and federal prisoners until 2008, when budget crises and policy changes led some states to reduce their prison populations and private prison contracts. The resulting losses for private prison companies were more than offset by expansion of their management of federal detainees under the jurisdiction of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Marshals Service.[…]
There are two key concerns about the expansion of private federal detention that need to be addressed. First, many of the problems associated with private corrections appear equally valid in the area of private detention. These include unsubstantiated claims of cost savings, problems with oversight, and high staff turnover. Second, there are considerable concerns regarding transparency in the use of private detention. The way federal agencies report data on privately-held detainees, along with the complex contractual arrangements and tiered layers of bureaucracy that result from privatization, make it difficult to ascertain the full scope of detention privatization at any given time. Without such transparency, policymakers and citizens are inherently limited in their ability to assess the full effects of privatization.
The report, which sheds considerable light on the business of incarceration, concludes, in part:
The companies with which ICE and USMS contract, including CCA and the GEO Group, are largely the same ones that have been criticized for their handling of prison operations. More importantly, these companies operate off of the same business models employed in prison privatization that have led to understaffing, negligence, and abuse. In addition to harming those housed in contract facilities, private prison companies fail to save taxpayers money, can have a deleterious financial effect on communities, and contribute to the continuation of America’s use of mass incarceration and detention. These private companies operate within complex and sometimes opaque systems where public and private officials cannot clearly answer questions and where the private companies managing federal detainees are not subject to Freedom of Information requests.
There are few signs of a slowdown in ICE and USMS’ commitment to contracting with for-profit companies. New facilities are slated to be built and the private prison industry is reaping the profits. Millions of dollars of these funds will be funneled back into the political system to promote policies to assure there will be large numbers of detainees to bolster companies’ profits.
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