Privatization corrupts the American justice system


Graphic by Alik Shier

Madeline Kessler

The United States, tired of the expenses of running its prisons, has offloaded the costs of doing so into the greedy cuff-linked hands of corporate America. The for-profit prison industry’s lucrative contracts with the government rack up $3.3 billion annually. 

These corporations vie for the greatest amount of profit they can squeeze out of their ventures and will go to lengthy measures to do so. As found in a 2013 investigation, two-thirds of private prisons required an occupancy rate of 90% on average, or the respective state government would have to pay for empty beds. This obligates public officials to keep prisons filled to ensure that tax dollars aren’t being wasted, which most often goes against the interests of their communities. 

Private prison contractors’ influence has only been expanding. Since 2000, they have enjoyed a 47% increase in their populations. They hold approximately six percent of state prisoners and 16 percent of federal prisoners. 

In a 2010 Annual Report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Corrections Corporation of America, one of the largest private prison corporations, voiced concern that the demand for their facilities would be hurt by leniency in sentencing. Justice Department reform threatens their business model, which is dependent on high rates of incarceration. They want to protect the “hard on crime” policies that target people of color. 

For-profit prisons have been banking on the bondage of Black and Brown men, who are disproportionately locked up compared to other groups. One out of every three Black men born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, as can one out of every six Latinx men — compared to one out of every 17 white men. Private prison companies want to maintain the status quo of prejudiced law enforcement practices.

More profits are being turned for contractors with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as the need for immigrant detainee facilities increases. This hasn’t gone without pushback; both Whole Foods employees and NYC demonstrators have recently demanded that Amazon stop providing cloud computing technologies for Palantir, an ICE software contractor.

The prison corporations still want bigger paychecks from ICE. Officials of GEO Group, the other contender for the largest private prison corporation, have said they expect earnings to rise with increased immigration detention time. 

It’s not wrong to conclude that companies making money off of criminal injustices are evil. It’s concerning that this has been permitted to continue. The two top private prison corporations, GEO and CCA, have funneled more than $10 million to candidates since 1989 and spent nearly $25 million on lobbying efforts. All of this to protect the manufactured demand for their services. The corporations have gone as far as bribing government officials to guarantee they continue to pack prisons and maximize profit. In Luzerne County, Pennsylvania judges took an astonishing $2.6 million in payoffs to put juvenile offenders in jails run by PA Child Care LLC. The scandal, dubbed “Kids for Cash,” is indicative of the cruel nature of the prison industry, and how profitable human freedoms are for greedy corporations.

The increase in prison populations and harsher sentencing means greater profit for contractors. It’s important to remember that the US has 25 percent of the entire world’s prison population, despite only having five percent of the world’s population. Since 1970, our total (not just private) incarcerated population has increased by 700 percent, with 2.3 million people in jail and prison, far outpacing population growth and crime. It’s vital the government puts a stop to funding private prisons, but it must go further and stop such severe enforcement of the law. 

The prison system costs taxpayers $80 billion per year. Instead of allocating funds for social services, our government has partnered with morally bankrupt corporations. The prison industry is an emblem of the government fiscal policies that have padded the pockets of carnivorous contractors, and have failed to return the people’s tax dollars they trusted would be reinvested back into their communities.