The bottom-line goal of a private prison system is to turn a profit, without consideration for – and often to the detriment of – any benefit to society. This is true of all public resources that are being undermined by privatization – water, land, education, even the administration of public assistance benefits (JP Morgan turns a healthy profit from processing food stamps).
People will argue that privatization is more efficient. I agree.
Private prisons are more efficient at turning public funds into profit for their shareholders, which include “too-big-to-fail” Wells Fargo and Bank of America. Consider that a “report by the Justice Policy Institute, called ‘Gaming the System’, found that since 2000, the number of prisoners held in private federal prisons increased by 120 percent, while those detained in private state prisons shot up by 33 percent. Perhaps more important to shareholders, however, is the fact that revenues have increased by over 160% during the same period. This has occurred at the same time that crime rates throughout the country have been in decline.” (quoted from Prison Aftershock.)
Private prisons are more efficient at creating “criminals” through laws like Arizona’s notorious anti-immigrant law SB 1070, which was privately drafted by the Corrections Corporation of America with other profit-driven members of the American Legislative Exchange Council and is being adopted by other states. Local moves to increase criminilization, such as Oakland’s Gang Injunctions, feed directly into the pockets of private prisons.
Private prisons are more efficient at influencing harsher sentences so that their business is guaranteed success, as in the “Kids for Cash” scandal involving two Pennsylvania judges who accepted $2.6 million in exchange for contracting with private juvenile detention centers and imposing stricter sentences on juveniles.
Private prisons are more efficient at de-stabilizing the families and communities of incarcerated inmates, making them ripe for further “harvest” of community wealth through foreclosures, privatization of schools, food insecurity, suppression and oppression of organized labor, and ghetto-ization through gentrification, to name a few interlinked strategies.
Private prisons are more efficient at overturning laws that prevented slave labor in prisons, and at using cheap or free inmate labor to undercut the cost of producing goods in a truly free market. They are efficient at marketing penal labor as “vocational training” so as to get around the illegal practice of convict leasing. (Excellent article in The Nation here, including information on how the incarcerated workforce in Florida produces unhealthy, processed meals for public school cafeterias. Yes, this is a tangled, tangled web we’re stuck in!)
These are not the efficiencies that the American people need.
This Prison Aftershock article provides a good overview of private prisons, and includes a video produced by Immigrants for Sale, illustrating how private prison corporations profit from the detention of documented and undocumented immigrants.
The frontlines of this battle to reap profit through criminalization and incarceration has been going on for a long time in this country. It has been waged on youth, on immigrants, on communities of color, on mentally and emotionally dis-eased people, on people without houses (aka “the homeless”), on the LBGTQ community. It continues to expand, and unless we unite to make common cause against the privatization of our (in)justice system, we will continue to fall prey to the strategy of criminalization and incarceration, also known as divide and conquer.
Unless we stand for each other, we will be too weak to stand for ourselves.
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