The privatization of the prison industry has crippled the American justice system and created an incentive for mass and improper incarceration.
With up to 2 million citizens behind bars, the United States leads the world, both per capita and in overall numbers, in imprisonment. While the U.S. holds only 5 percent of the world’s population, the country houses an estimated 25 percent of the world’s prison population. However, according to FBI reports, the rates of violent crime are the lowest they have been in the past 40 years. In fact, crime in 2010 was one-third of what it was in 1994. These statistics beg the question—if crime has decreased in the past few decades, why has the prison population steadily increased? The answer is simple: private prisons.
Private prison industries are an immoral and gluttonous component of the American justice system and have bred the prison-industrial complex. Private prison corporations have lobbied for stricter drug laws, harsher sentences for non-violent offenders and mandatory minimums in order to guarantee a profit. Privatization is simply a code word for “for-profit,” meaning the goal is to make money—nothing more and nothing less. Private prisons lose money when an inmate is released from their facilities, hence creating an incentive to counter rehabilitation and to increase recidivism rates.
Even more damning is the fact that most of these private prisons have states sign contracts that include lockup quotas. According to a study by “In the Public Interest,” 65 percent of state and local private prison contracts include some form of a quota. The study further states that occupancy quotas are between 80 to 100 percent, with 90 percent being the most frequent.
When lockup quotas are not met, corrections departments end up paying thousands, if not millions, of taxpayers’ money for the unoccupied beds in these private prisons. For example, crime in Colorado has dropped by one-third within the past decade, which is a wondrous thing. However, lockup quotas for the private prisons in the state were not met, and therefore cost taxpayers an additional $2 million. Essentially, this is a tax that penalizes the community for having the audacity to achieve low crime and incarceration rates, which should be ideal.
These lockup quotas are an affront to the American principles of liberty and justice and add to the egregious image of the private prison industry. Policymakers are focused on filling unoccupied beds instead of ensuring the welfare of the citizenry. Forget worthwhile policy changes to reduce crime, unfair sentencing and incarceration altogether—no one needs that. It is all about the money. Green is the only color they care about.
Speaking of money, the greed of the private prison industry knows absolutely no bounds. In order to further increase their profit margin, some have cut back on staff training and medical care for their inmates. In 2011, an American Civil Liberties Union suit drew national attention to the Idaho Corrections Center, which was nicknamed “Gladiator School” by the inmates because of the hellish conditions. Apparently, prison gangs were running the center in order to cut costs on corrections officers. Conversely , in 2012, private prisons in Ohio were investigated for denying AIDS and diabetes patients access to proper medical care.
American society will never flourish so long as the private sector, whose sole purpose is profit, continues to lay stake in industries where money should be of no concern. Privatization of the American justice system erodes democracy and breeds mistrust and corruption. Private prisons are a travesty and should be abolished in their entirety. Until then, unfair and mass incarceration will run rampant, and Americans will grow weary of their once great justice system.