How would you describe an industry that wants to put more Americans in prison and keep them there longer so that it can make more money? In America today, approximately 130,000 people are locked up in private prisons that are being run by for-profit companies, and that number is growing very rapidly. Overall, the U.S. has approximately 25 percent of the entire global prison population even though it only has 5 percent of the total global population. The United States has the highest incarceration rate on the entire globe by far, and no nation in the history of the world has ever locked up more of its own citizens than we have. Are we really such a cesspool of filth and decay that we need to lock up so many of our own people? Or are there some other factors at work? Could part of the problem be that we have allowed companies to lock up men and women in cages for profit? The two largest private prison companies combined to bring in close to $3,000,000,000 in revenue in 2010, and the largest private prison companies have spent tens of millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions over the past decade. Putting Americans behind bars has become very big business, and those companies have been given a perverse incentive to push for even more Americans to be locked up. It is a system that is absolutely teeming with corruption, and it is going to get a lot worse unless someone does something about it.
One of the keys to success in the private prison business it to get politicians to vote your way. That is why the big private prison companies spend so much money on lobbying and campaign contributions. The following is an excerpt from a report put out by the Justice Policy Institute entitled “Gaming the System: How the Political Strategies of Private Prison Companies Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies“…
For-profit private prison companies primarily use three strategies to influence policy: lobbying, direct campaign contributions, and building relationships, networks, and associations. Over the years, these political strategies have allowed private prison companies to promote policies that lead to higher rates of incarceration and thus greater profit margins for their company. In particular, private prison companies have had either influence over or helped to draft model legislation such as “three-strikes” and “truth-in-sentencing” laws, both of which have driven up incarceration rates and ultimately created more opportunities for private prison companies to bid on contracts to increase revenues.
If you can believe it, three of the largest private prison companies have spent approximately $45,000,000 combined on lobbying and campaign contributions over the past decade.
Would they be spending so much money if those companies did not believe that it was getting results?
Just look at what has happened to the U.S. prison population over the
past several decades. Prior to 1980, there were virtually no private
prisons in the United States. But since that time, we have seen the
overall prison population and the private prison population absolutely
For example, between 1990 and 2009 the number of Americans in private prisons grew by about 1600 percent.
Overall, the U.S. prison population more than quadrupled between 1980 and 2007.
So something has definitely changed.
Not that it is wrong to put people in prison when they commit
crimes. Of course not. And right now violent crime is rapidly rising in many of our largest cities. When people commit violent crimes they need to be removed from the streets.
But when you put those criminals into the hands of private companies
that are just in it to make a buck, the potential for abuse is enormous.
For example, when auditors visited one private prison in Texas, they “got so much fecal matter on their shoes they had to wipe their feet on the grass outside.”
The prisoners were literally living in their own manure.
How would you feel if a member of your own family was locked up in such a facility?
And the truth is that there seem to be endless stories of abuse in
private prisons. One private prison company reportedly charges inmates $5.00 a minute to make phone calls but only pays them $1.00 a day to work…