unorthodox policy-making of the American Legislative Exchange Council
Prisons run or operated by private corporations have been reported publicly to be cheaper, more efficient, and better enhance the rehabilitation of inmates when compared to public or federal prisons. These private prisons are also said to have a faster construction process. However, if this were the case, why should the privations of prisons in the United States be of concern? Despite other reports or findings, private prisons are linked to hidden costs, lack of proper accountability as well as inadequacy in quality staff; often culminating in cases of corruption. These vices have undermined the operation and the image of private prisons. As a result, several countries are questioning when it comes to private prisons and their role in the justice system. Additionally, the lives of prisoners in most private prisons are jeopardized due to inadequate safety and security, poor sanitation and inadequate health care programs in private prisons. Even with this in mind, actors like the Trump Administration are adamant in the continued operation of private prisons. This paper utilizes several researches and reports to establish whether it is a wise decision, to allow private ‘for-profit’ corporations to run prisons in the U.S. or not.
Keywords: For-profit prisons, ALEC, Hidden costs, Overcrowding
Should Private “For Profit” Corporations Be Allowed to Run U.S. Prisons? A Literature review
While private corporations have reportedly been playing an important role in the correctional sector, current research suggest that permitting ‘for profit’ corporations to run the U.S. prisons ‘’poses a great threat to human rights as far as prison inmates are concerned”. According to Armed, the United States hosts more prisoners than the residents in big American cities like Phoenix (2019). As of 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated the prison inmates to be at two million.128,063 of them were in private correctional facilities, an increase of 47% from 2000. Specifically, the GEO Group and Corecivic are the major private prisons that accommodated a large percentage of the total prisoners in the U.S. The use of private prisons in the U.S. officially began in 1984.
There are a number of factors that do not support the use of private prisons. For instance, the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) through the help of the federal government in a research found out that between 2011and 2014 more assaults among inmates and between inmates and staff in for-profit prisons was very high (Ahmed, 2019). In fact, this corresponds to a 28% higher rate than those that occur in federal prisons. The Justice Department is mostly concerned about” the safety of private prisons and their inability to save funds”(Simon, 2019). The goal of this literature review is to find out whether indeed it is a good idea to allow ‘For profit’ corporations to run the prisons in the U.S.
The Trump Administration
Ever since Trump’s election, the spending on private prisons has doubled. In 2017, the GEO Group one, of the largest private prisons, received a one hundred ten million contract to build a detention facility which, benefits the Trump’s inaugural committee and his family business. Policies touching immigration have been increased during this Trump’s Administration era. Consequentially, more immigrants have been detained in private prisons which, translates to more profits for the facilities while at the same time putting the lives of these detainees in danger. The Sentencing Project indicate that in 2016, the number of detained immigrants had risen to 26,249 from 4,841 in 2000. As of now, the number of immigrants stands at 54,344. In 2017, a total of twenty-one immigrants died while held up in private facilities. Trump administration’s support for private prisons has run deep such that “Funds meant for other agencies have been also channeled into the enforcement of immigration” (Ahmed, 2019). To top it all of children have not been spared when it comes to being detained in facilities that are not licensed; all for the greed for more profits. Trump was involved in the signing of the order Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, that would foresee that immigration enforcement in the U.S. was expanded. As a result, all undocumented immigrants faced deportation despite their length of stay in the country (Ahmed, 2019).
There has been a steady increase in prison inmates in American prisons ever since the President Obama’s Department of Justice ended in 2016. His efforts to phase out the running of private for-profit prison was through to the wind “immediately Trump was elected as president” (Ahmed, 2019). While there is no direct link between privatization of prisons and mass incarceration, it has undoubtedly been proven that setting up of private prisons have somehow contributed to more people being arrested. The mass incarceration primarily comes from tougher laws and regulations being put in place. “Tighter drug laws, tighter immigration laws and mandatory sentencing laws have all contributed to more people being put in prisons or being detained”(Khey, 2015). While it could take a long time for a federal prison facility to be constructed due to legislative laws, private prisons are quicker to construct. It is for this reason that these prisoners are taken into private prisons. Due to their establishment, the fight on crime is tough hence more incarcerations. Similarly, “the mandatory bed occupancy could have a great influence on mass incarceration” (Elsen, 2017). The private prisons have a specific number of prison inmates they need to maintain. This causes these facilities to bring in more inmates so as meet their numbers. Private prisons are said to greatly benefit from the mass incarceration as they could pocket up to five million annually (Elsen, 2017). It should not be forgotten that politics have played an important role mass imprisonment.
Although all prisons are set to bring out the same outcome (rehabilitation), both private and private prisons differ in conditions and practices in their respective facilities. Private prisons have been linked to riots, deaths, as well as lack of financial accountability. This has negatively affected the overall living conditions of prisoners. Reports indicate that many of the private prisons are overcrowded with inmates (Haney, 2015). The overcrowding is mostly caused by mass incarceration because of hasher sentencing laws and the war against drugs. The occupancy is found to surpass the maximum number at any given time. For instance, the increased policies on immigration in 2017 resulted to approximately 26,249 immigrants being detained in private ‘for-profit’ prisons (Ahmed, 2019). Despite of the huge funding these facilities get, prisoners are faced are faced with poor sanitation and poor healthcare services. A report made by Office of Inspector General indicate that a correctional “facility that is operated by GEO in Adelanto, California, had bathrooms whose condition had deteriorated” (Ahmed, 2019). The washrooms were reportedly to have had molds and peeled paints were evident on the floors, walls as well as showers. The toilets also could not be used.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement even go soft on private prisons that fail to adhere to its performance standards. (Baćak & Ridgeway, 2018) admit that there are inadequate resources in private prisons that would help protect prison inmates’ health in comparison to those in public prisons. Haney examines the psychological factors that influence the prisoners while in their confinement (2012). He suggests that these factors are dehumanizing, taking away of basic necessities, all which are experienced by prisoners in most private prisons. Haney is also concerned that solitary confinement could bring more psychological stress than any other type of sentencing (2012). Similarly, there are factors that increase the vulnerability of some prisoners in private prisons. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement even go soft on private prisons that fail to adhere to its performance standards. There are several cases of inmate deaths, who were immigrants, which indicated just how much the inferiority of a group could endanger their lives in private prisons. The same goes to people with color. Their human rights are violated, and their health is at risk. Through a research conducted by Baćak & Ridgeway, there were very few programs on substance dependency, psychological or psychiatric health as well as HIV/AIDS, in private prisons (2018). This is backed up by the kind of facilities found in the private prison sector.
Sexual Abuse and Violence
Many private prisons harbor many cases of sexual abuse and violence. The East Mississippi Correctional Facility (privately operated) for instance, is well known for sexual abuse and violence (Stannow, 2018). The facility serves just as a portion on how hostile the environment in private prisons can get. The number of those who faced sexual violence was higher in the transgender community than the general population. This comes as a result of the private prisons’ lack of adequate resources that will enhance the care for transgender population. There are also several cases of inmates’ death especially for the immigrants who are transgender (Ahmed,2019). According to Ahmed, twenty-one immigrants from the transgender community died in 2017 while detained in private prisons (2019). Prisoners are reportedly violent towards fellow prisoners as well as the prison staffs (Stannow, 2018).
The Hidden Profits
In spite of private prisons being meant to save the government some money, there are hidden profits that are gained by the same prisons. The top two private prison corporations in the U.S. Corecivic and the Geo Group have profited greatly from the Trump’s Administration. Ahmed confirms that the two facilities have benefited on the strict immigration policies that have been put in place (2019). Both have spent only about 48% of their total revenue between 2017 and 2018 for their operations despite of them getting huge contracts from the government. The question is, where does the rest of the money go? Obviously, this remain in the pockets of those under the administrative roles. The two facilities have even admitted to their stalk holders that “their profitability lies in the hands of the federal government” (Ahmed,2019). These private prisons are willing jeopardize the quality of their detention services just to make profit. They support political allies that in turn help them come up with laws and policies that will sustain their operability.
The private corporations have also gained support from councils like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which for the longest time, has been supporting the privatization of prisons. ALEC seeks to expand the privatization of prisons through the promotion of use of prisoners to provide labor, increase private prisons use of goods and services and increase the number of prisoners. ALEC goes to longer lengths to maintain the number of people incarcerated in private prisons. For instance, it expands the definitions of the existing crimes, creates new crimes, amends the trial process in order to increase the chances of sentencing (Cooper et al, 2016). Also, it increases the lengths of sentences. All these efforts are directed towards maintaining the hidden profits in the private prisons sector. ALEC has also successfully ” influenced public policies even without public participation and helped pass laws that deal with criminalization” (Cooper et al,2016; Joy, 2018). Joy claims that private prisons try to save as much and risk the health of the prisoners (2018). Through a 2007 study it was found out that high prison population increased the cost of operations (Carrie, 2017). As a result, the private prisons cut the costs even if it was at the expense of the inmates
Khey indicates that privatization of prisons only became a reality in the 1980s (2015). There are several factors that could have contributed to the privatization of prisons. The turbulent post-Vietnam war for instance, yielded to stricter rules that could fight crime. As a result, more tighter laws on drugs were imposed. There was also mandatory sentencing required to maintain such enforcement. This resulted in too many people being incarcerated in public prisons. “To deal with the rising number of prisoners in state prisons, private prisons were established” (Elsen,2017). The current legislation has also contributed to more prisoners that are accommodated by both private and private prisons. From a general point of view, privatization of prisons could ”save the government about thirteen to fifteen million” each year if all goes well (Carrie, 2017). This is tempting especially because spending in public prisons is bound to increase. This is reflected by a report that show a 74% increase from 4.5 million in 1980 and 7.7 billion in 1984.
Currently, ‘’8.4% of the total U.S. prison population is run by private corporations” (Gaes,2019). Due to high number of incarcerations, the number of prisoners in private prisons have increased. The huge populations in private prisons has “exposed prisoners to sexual violence, poor sanitation, overcrowding, inmate to inmate and staff to inmate assaults “(Gaes, 2019). These are just a few reasons why the residents of New York through various organizations are calling out for the abolishment of private prisons in New York altogether. Simon (2019) indicates that the CoreCivic and GEO Group have so far been unable to secure a contract with New York since 2007. “The privatization of the prisons will save minimal cash if not none” (Wood, 2007 ).
‘For profit’ corporations have been and currently involved in the American Justice system. While research have pointed out the need to scrap out private prisons, it is uncertain if indeed it will be possible. From several reports, the privatization of prisons has evolved into a modern form of slavery to the prisoners (Peláez, 2019; Simon, 2019). It should dawn on the administrators of these facilities that, the main purpose of prisons is to rehabilitate the prisoners. “The human rights of these prisoners should therefore be respected and protected” (Joy, 2018). Reports show that corporations like ALEC have contributed to privatization of prisons and advocated ways in which private prisons can keep getting profits. For instance, ALEC is reported to be promoting “prison labor and maintaining a certain number of prisoners” being held at a given time (Peláez, 2019; Simon, 2019).
The idea of complete elimination of private prisons will benefit the prisoners who were vulnerable to safety and security threats. However, the gap left by the eradication of private prison will be very significant given the numbers of prisoners with serious offences. This could be disastrous altogether. Instead strategies like “competition from the public sector, will increase the performance in the private prisons” (Burkhardt, 2018).There is a need to compare both sides( private and public prisons) in order to make necessary adjustments that would benefit all the stalk holders in the prison industry, including the society and the prisoners themselves. Therefore, more research is needed to come up with correct data when it comes to the conditions in the detention facilities, the number of prisoners and their link to privatization of prisons. This will ensure that there is no difference between private and public as far as serving their purpose is concerned, and that each “can serve as an alternative” to each other (Peláez, 2019; Simon, 2019).
The major limitation in this literature review is the lack of evidence on the connection between privatization of prisons in the U.S and the mass incarceration. Although there has been an increase of detainees in the past as well as the current Trump Administration’s era, their fate does not depend on the facilities they are detained in. It is recommended that a thorough research be conducted to establish the various causes of mass incarceration in both private and public prisons.
Ahmed, H. (2019). How private prisons are profiting under the Trump Administration. Retrieved 25 September 2019, from https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/democracy/reports/2019/08/30/473966/private-prisons-profiting-trump-administration/
Baćak, V., & Ridgeway, G. (2018). Availability of health-related programs in private and public prisons. Journal of Correctional Health Care, 24(1), 62-70.
Burkhardt, B. C. (2019). Does the public sector respond to private competition? An analysis of privatization and prison performance. Journal of Crime and Justice, 42(2), 201-220.
Carrie, A. (2017). The Demoralization of the US Judicial System Through the Promotion of Private Prison Industries. FAU Undergraduate Law Journal, 1, 91.
Cooper, R., Heldman, C., Ackerman, A. R., & Farrar-Meyers, V. A. (2016). Hidden corporate profits in the US prison system: The unorthodox policy-making of the American Legislative Exchange Council. Contemporary Justice Review, 19(3), 380-400.
Eisen, L. B. (2017). Inside private prisons: An American dilemma in the age of mass incarceration. Columbia University Press.
Gaes, G. G. (2019). Current status of prison privatization research on American prisons and jails. Criminology & Public Policy, 18(2), 269-293.
Haney, C. (2015). Prison overcrowding. American Psychological Association.
Joy, T. (2018). The Problem with Private Prisons. Retrieved 25 September 2019, from http://www.justicepolicy.org/news/12006
Khey, D. N. (2015). Privatization of prison. The Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment, 1-8.
Peláez, V. (2019). The prison industry in the United States: Big business or a new form of slavery? Retrieved 25 September 2019, from https://www.globalresearch.ca/the-prison-industry-in-the-united-states-big-business-or-a-new-form-of-slavery/8289
Schultz, C. (2015). Prison privatization: Driving influences and performance evaluation. Themis: Research Journal of Justice Studies and Forensic Science, 3(1), 5.
Simon, M. (2019). New York Could Become First State To Be Completely Done With Private Prisons. Retrieved 11 October 2019, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/morgansimon/2019/06/18/new-york-to-become-first-state-to-be-completely-done-with-private-prisons/.
Stannow, L. (2018, 20th June). Standing by as prisoners are raped. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/20/opinion/prison-rape-sexual-violence.html
Wassenaar, M., Gradus, R., & Molleman, T. (2018). Are nonprofit prisons an alternative? Some experiences in the Netherlands. Nonprofit Management and Leadership, 28(4), 529-537.
Wood, P. J. (2007). Globalization and Prison Privatization: Why Are Most of the World’s For-Profit Adult Prisons to Be Found in the American South?. International Political Sociology, 1(3), 222-239.