Gainesville, Florida (Special to Informed Comment) – Every state should follow California’s outstanding example by ending the obscene system of private prisons and privately-run immigration detention facilities. California will phase out the use of these for-profit, private detention facilities by 2028. The state prohibited renewing contracts or signing new contracts with a private prison company after January 1, 2020. By ending the use of for-profit private prisons and detention facilities, California sends a powerful message that it vehemently opposes the practice of profiteering off the backs of immigrants and prisoners, and will stand up for the health, safety and welfare of all citizens, and is committed to humane treatment for everyone.
In a for-profit prison, jail or immigrant detention facility, people are imprisoned by a private third party that contracts with a government agency. Contractual agreements between governments and private entities commit prisoners to privatized facilities and are paid a per diem or monthly rate, either for each immigrant or prisoner in the facility, or for each place available, whether occupied or not. Such contracts may be for the operation only of a facility, or for design, construction and operation.
Private profit prison corporations have become the best example of a private capitalist enterprise that profits on the misery of man while trying to ensure that nothing is done to decrease that misery. Profiteering private prison corporations are cashing in on the misery and desperation of U.S. citizens as many county jail and state prison systems privatize throughout the nation. Private companies house about 9 percent of the nation’s total prison population, with privatization/profiteering madness now extending to well over 6 million people under correctional supervision, more than ever were in Stalin’s gulags. Misery and desperation has been compounded by the underfunding and deterioration of community mental health services. Accordingly, the often privatized county jail has become the largest mental health facility in most American communities.
Most alarming, the private prison industry also incarcerates about 73 percent of all immigrant children, adolescents and adults . A spokesman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service (ICE), Alonzo Pena, acknowledged that the private companies have all too often fallen short, noting that “It wasn’t their priority to ensure that the highest standards were being met”. ICE deserves some blame/responsibility. “We set up this partnership with the private industry in a way that was supposed to make things much more effective, much more economical, but unfortunately, it was in the execution and the monitoring and the auditing we fell behind, we fell short.”
Next to private health insurance corporations, there is no greater disconnect between the public good and private interests than the rise of corporate owned and operated jails. The interest of private jails lies not in the obvious social good of having the minimum necessary number of inmates, but instead having as many immigrants and prisoners as possible housed as cheaply as possible.
The chilling 2005 annual report of the Corrections Corporation of America cautioned its investors about the financial risk if the number of convicted prisoners were ever to be reduced:
“Our growth is generally dependent upon our ability to obtain new contracts to develop and manage new correctional and detention facilities. … The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.”
Without evidence, private prison corporations always claim that their program will save the county and state millions annually. Private companies, such as CCA/CoreCivic and GEO Group dominant, tout their virtues by saying they build and operate prisons more cheaply than governments can, due to the public sector’s many mandates. Their day-to-day operations are similarly more efficient and less costly, they assert, and they do it all without compromising public safety. The bottom line, they say, is that they allow governments to free up public funds for pursuits that mean more to most taxpayers than how felons or immigrants are jailed.
“Privately operated facilities are better equipped to handle changes in the flow of illegal immigration because they can open or close new facilities as needed,” said Rodney E. King, CoreCivic’s public affairs manager.
Critics tell a different story. They cite moments like a 2015 riot to protest poor conditions at a prison in Arizona run by another major private player, Management and Training Corporation. Earlier at that same institution, three inmates had escaped and murdered two people.
Many case examples show scrimping by prison and immigrant detention facility operators, with bad food and shabby health care for inmates, low pay and inadequate training for guards and hiring shortages. At immigrant detention centers, operators see little need to offer extensive educational programs for children or job training since people held there are mostly destined for deportation. “To maximize profit, you minimize your expenditures,” said Rachel Steinback, a lawyer for hunger strikers.
Despite many promises that jail and prison privatization will lead to big cost savings, such savings, as a comprehensive study by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, part of the U.S. Department of Justice concluded, “have simply not materialized.” To the extent that private prison and jail operators do manage to save money, they do so through “reductions in trained staff, fringe benefits and other labor-related costs.”
The standard technique of privatization: defund government services to make sure things don’t work and people get angry, then hand it over to private capital. By continuing to defund mental health services, local publically funded jail and state prison services, county commissions and state government allows the for-profit, private prison corporations to appear to “rescue” the county jail or state service via self-serving profit-driven programs.
It’s not long until privatization falls short in quality service; the private jail program saves money by employing fewer, less trained guards and other workers and pays them badly, with horror stories often accompanying how these jails are run. In addition to Department of Justice studies and experience showing that governments save little money, if any, by turning over prison functions to private outfits, the DoJ also concluded that private prisons were in general more violent than government-operated institutions, and ordered a phaseout under the Obama administration of their use at the federal level. Regrettably, reversing that order was one of the first things that President Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, did on taking office.
The Trump administration leaves no doubt that it will detain as many undocumented immigrants as it can and send them to for-profit centers. And to help make sure that happens, private prisons companies spend millions on campaigns and congressional lobbying efforts, just like businesses that sell cars, real estate, hamburgers or toothpaste.
To fix this problem, we should demand that private corporations be removed from the administration of our local, state and federal public prison programs. Privatization of jail services increases costs without any corresponding increase in quality or care. Economist Paul Krugman notes that “as more and more government functions get privatized, states become ‘pay-to-play paradises in which both political contributions and contracts for friends and relatives become quid pro quo for getting government busines.”
The corrupt nexus of privatization and patronage by the 1 percent is undermining local and state levels of government across the USA. Since treatment, counseling and rehabilitation programs are not profitable and therefore discouraged or rejected, longer-term institutionalization by for-profit corporations is promoted via harsh sentencing guidelines and other means for keeping inmates doing lengthy, and very profitable for the corporation, sentences. As long as the general population remains passive, apathetic and seemingly unable to advocate for its best interests, the powerful in county, state and federal government, along with their corporate oligarch partners, will continue privatizing and profiteering as they please, while laughing all the way to the bank.
Bonus Video added by Informed Comment: