Yesterday, after months of protests by students, Columbia University in New York became the first university to divest in for-profit prison corporations after acknowledging ownership of over 230,000 shares of Corrections Corp. of America – though they still have shares in a British prison company. The university has capped their annual investment in the shares as a protest to the social repercussions of mass incarceration.
If you watch Orange is the New Black on Netflix, you’re no stranger to the for-profit prison system problems as it basically unraveled from the top down during the most recent season. While the show is obviously fictitious, there is no shortage of underlying truth in the messaging. For-profit prisons are a breeding ground for corruption, human rights violations, and excessive violence within cell walls.
How it works: Corporations make money off of the incarceration of criminals. While one may immediately jump to the entrepreneurial side of the argument, that bubble bursts quickly when you consider that companies are earning profits based on the sheer number of people they are locking up. In order for states to pass off the contracts to a corporation, states must sign a contract guaranteeing 20 years of at least 90 percent occupancy in the facility. For example, In Arizona, there are three facilities that have contracts that require 100% occupancy. The state is on the hook to fill the prisons, otherwise, they pay the corporation for empty beds.
A few other enlightening points to consider:
- Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Virginia have the highest occupancy guarantee requirements, all between 95-100%
- 65% of private prisons have occupancy quotas
- It doesn’t say taxpayers money. Crime in Colorado has dropped by 1/3 over the last 10 years but private prisons have increased Colorado’s bill by $2 million
- Quotas don’t ensure better quality. Many facilities are overcrowded, don’t have secure doors, and are short-staffed.
- Private prisons are currently responsible for 6% of state prison populations and 16% at the federal level.
- Private federal prison population more than doubled between 2000 and 2010 in 130 facilities.
- Private corporations now bring in a combined $3.3 billion in annual revenue.
Think about that last one for a moment. Prison companies make $3.3 billion off of taxpayers every year to privatize facilities. And one more thing : these entities have funneled more than $10 million to political candidates and $25 million in lobbying efforts since 1989.
No, the government doesn’t do (m)any things right and generally speaking, outsourcing is a good thing. But not here. Not with this. Not when there is so much to lose. No, this isn’t an apologist’s blog for the prison system. Prison should be uncomfortable. But it shouldn’t make the public uncomfortable because from a societal standpoint we are doing something wrong. We cannot afford to cut corners and costs at the expense of public trust.
The ACLU revealed studies that indicate higher risk factors for for-profit prisons than their public counterparts and because of such, one giant corporation – Corrections Corporation of America – has lost 4 contracts in the last month. The company has admitted to falsifying 4,800 hours of staffing records, incorrect billing, and is currently under investigation by police in Idaho. This follows two closures in Texas. Texas, y’all. Let that sink in a moment. If this is what they’re admitting to doing, imagine what is still under the rug.
In 2008, the Idaho facility found that the prison run by CCA had FOUR TIMES as many prisoner-on-prisoner assaults as the other seven Idaho facilities COMBINED. Why? It wasn’t because of the population.
The operation is counter intuitive to what Republicans and Democrats are pushing from a policy perspective when it comes to criminal justice reform. Organizations like the U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops, the United Methodist Church, and the Presbyterian Church USA have all condemned the practice of for-profit prisons stating it misdirects rehabilitation to instead focus on the bottom line.
It’s one thing to be tough on crime. You can do so while not overcriminalizing and overpopulating prisons – moderation in everything. But, do we really find it acceptable that a group of people have so much to gain from another group of people remaining part of the system?