One of the more loathsome trends that has taken root since Neoliberal policies were embraced in the last few decades is the commodification of the imprisoned to line the pockets of prisons-for-profit corporations. In our deteriorating economy, this predatory business model has been a lucrative venture, especially for Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) which is the largest Wall Street traded company of its kind extracting profit from our prison-industrial-complex.
With states desperate for cash, CCA has taken advantage of the situation and swooped in to offer this deal:
Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest operator of for-profit prisons, has sent letters recently to 48 states offering to buy up their prisons as a remedy for “challenging corrections budgets.” In exchange, the company is asking for a 20-year management contract, plus an assurance that the prison would remain at least 90 percent full, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Huffington Post.
The move reflects a significant shift in strategy for the private prison industry, which until now has expanded by building prisons of its own or managing state-controlled prisons. It also represents an unprecedented bid for more control of state prison systems….
And Corrections Corporation’s offer of $250 million toward purchasing existing state prisons is yet another avenue for potential growth. The company has billed the “corrections investment initiative” as a convenient option for states in need of fresh revenue streams: The state benefits from a one-time infusion of cash, while the prison corporation wins a new long-term contract. In addition, supporters of prison privatization have argued that states can achieve cost savings through outsourcing, as prison corporations give fewer benefits to employees.
“We believe this comes at a timely and helpful juncture and hope you will share our belief in the benefits of the purchase-and-manage model,” reads the letter from Harley Lappin, CCA’s chief corrections officer, who was a former director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
CCA made almost 2 billion in profits in 2010.
You can bet that when such a capitalist model gets applied to the handling and rehabilitation of prisoners, strange things happen. Louisiana is one state that has embraced the prisons-for-profit business model at the local level. Charles Blow’s article in the New York Times entitled “Plantations, Prisons, & Profits” talks about a devastating eight-part series published in The Times-Picayune of New Orleans and identifying Louisiana as the prison capital of the planet. Here are some shocking facts:
“Louisiana is the world’s prison capital. The state imprisons more of its people, per head, than any of its U.S. counterparts. First among Americans means first in the world. Louisiana’s incarceration rate is nearly triple Iran’s, seven times China’s and 10 times Germany’s.”
• One in 86 Louisiana adults is in the prison system, which is nearly double the national average.
• More than 50 percent of Louisiana’s inmates are in local prisons, which is more than any other state. The next highest state is Kentucky at 33 percent. The national average is 5 percent.
• Louisiana leads the nation in the percentage of its prisoners serving life without parole.
• Louisiana spends less on local inmates than any other state.
• Nearly two-thirds of Louisiana’s prisoners are nonviolent offenders. The national average is less than half.
The incarceration statutes in that state were purposefully strengthened (10 years for writing a bad check) so as to keep the prison cells full and the revenue stream from state tax dollars flowing in. Consequently, more money is spent on imprisonment, thereby leaving less funds available for prisoner rehabilitation programs. The for-profit incarceration business is thus assured a steady stream of profit from a revolving door of recidivism.
Louisiana is the starkest, most glaring example of how our prison policies have failed. It showcases how private prisons do not serve the public interest and how the mass incarceration as a form of job creation is an abomination of justice and civility and creates a long-term crisis by trying to create a short-term solution.
As the paper put it: “A prison system that leased its convicts as plantation labor in the 1800s has come full circle and is again a nexus for profit.”
Today, the U.S. prison system delivers profits to both government corporations and private enterprises in several ways:
1) Through the use of inmate labor to produce goods and services in federal and state prisons
2) Through the contracting of this labor to private companies at below-market wages and
3) By privatization of the prisons and detainment centers themselves. Given these perverse incentives to maintain a high inmate population, is it any wonder that the number of prisoners and the length of their sentences — Americans comprise 5 percent of the world’s total population but 25 percent of the world’s prison population — have skyrocketed since privatization began in 1984?
Number of inmates. 1920 to 2006. (absolute numbers) General U.S. population grew only 2.8 times in the same period, but the number of inmates increased more than 20 times.