The United States imprisons a higher percentage of its citizens than any other country. Although the U.S is home to only five percent of the world’s population it incarcerates about 25% of the world’s prisoners.
The epidemic has been coined mass incarceration because of the rapid increase in prisoners from the early 1970s until today. The number of incarcerated people in 1972 was less than 200,000. It has reached unprecedented levels as about 2.2 million people live in incarceration today. One incentive for the dramatic uptick in American prisons is the private prison industry itself.Private prisons are run as corporations which, according to their supporters, cut costs and efficiently provide a service. The justification is sheer fantasy.
In practice many private prisons provide inhumane living standards while maximizing profit for employees and owners. The majority of states do not have legislation to force oversight into these corporations, meaning the majority of private prisons are free to hide the quality of life behind bars. In a 2010 video by by AP, journalists exposed prison officials working for the Correction Corporation of America failing to stop inmates fighting which resulted in one inmate suffering permanent brain damage.
The Idaho prison was called Gladiator School by inmates for the staff’s tendency to condone inmate violence. This example is a microcosm of what could be happening at private prisons across the country. While similar instances of violence have happened at federal prisons they tend to be transparent. unlike their private counterparts which are at greater risk for losing profitable contracts. The enormous profits that private prison corporations and politicians tied to the private prison industry reap is a powerful incentive to the mass incarceration crisis. It is a parasitic presence weighing down both American tax payers and incarcerated Americans.
To further the privatization of prisons in America some of the largest corporations, GEO and Correction Corporations of America, have spent over $25 million to lobby for friendly legislation. The industry has also spent considerable resources to influence politicians. As speaker of the house, Ricky Rubio received $40,000 in donations to his campaign from GEO. While these financial investments may seem like a steep price to pay it objectively yielded results. The entire industry saw its profits reach about $3.3 billion in 2015, reported the Washington post. The prison privatization industry is exploitative and strategic in its ventures to secure influence and wealth.
The majority of immigration detention centers are owned not by the government, but by corporations. Over ten thousand immigrants are detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in America while they await their trials. The immigrants often face extended periods of detainment, sometimes six months to a year. During this time the they are put to work by the corporations running the ICE facilities.
The internees are usually tasked with simple jobs like cleaning the latrines and other common areas in the facilities. However, the internees usually do not receive any kind of financial compensation for their work, and can face time in solitary confinement, which has severe psychological consequences, if they refuse. The exploitation of the detainees is two folded.
Not only is it a violation of their natural rights, as even prisoners are paid for their work, the free labor allows private prison corporations to save money while collecting tax revenue for that labor.The start of the Obama administration signaled the beginning of an effort to resolve mass incarceration and specifically the privatization of incarceration. Citizens quickly became aware of the hypocrisy of an industry claiming to offer social rehabilitation but instead lobbying for longer sentences.
This is to say that private prisons became very very unpopular among Americans. Not only did they not offer the services they claimed to at a cheaper cost, but they indirectly made incarceration more expensive by lobbying for legislation that would imprison more Americans. This movement against private prisons continued up until 2016 with both democratic nominees Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders explicitly endorsing the abolition of private prisons. The acknowledgement of the negative consequences of private prisons led to many corporations losing their contracts. The Idaho prison which was nicknamed Gladiator school lost its contract shortly after the AP expose was released. The stock value of CCA dropped considerably in 2014, signaling future uncertainty in the industry. Although the idea of private prisons remains extremely unpopular among Americans with the election of President Trump in 2016 and an overwhelmingly Republican Congress the prison industry is seeing a resurgence.
Private prison is know for being exceptionally exploitative and predatory. It makes sense then that the most sought after victims of privatization are minorities, who historically have faced the brunt of government policy. Among the prison industry which already incarcerates black and brown people at unprecedented rates, the private sector incarcerates minorities at even higher rates.
Private prisons prefer to lock up younger Americans because they tend to need less medical attention and are cheaper to house. Many of these younger inmates tend to be non-white. If it is not enough that mass incarceration as a whole preys upon minorities at a higher rate than whites the realization that private prisons do so for a profit should be the final straw. Private prisons are a stain on the morality and legitimacy of the justice system, steps should be taken immediately to end the practice.