Photo by Olivier Dionne, 2015, via Flickr.
Arguments about whether privatizing prisons is deemed appropriate have been the focal point of news media outlets and political forums. Major players in the private sector have contributed millions of dollars to presidential campaigns, endorsements, and lobbying. Some of the largest contributors in the correctional facility business include the Corrections Corporations of America (commonly known in the stock market as Corecivic) and the GEO Group; both have a reported annual revenue in the billions—that’s right, billions.
The Center for Responsive Politics paints a black and white picture of the contributions some of the largest companies have made, specifically in 2014, “GEO Group, Corrections Corporations of America, and Management and Training Corporation—all spend significantly more lobbying in state capitals than on Capitol Hill… In 2014 alone, they spent nearly $2 million lobbying Congress, and individuals from these companies gave well over $500,000 to congressional candidates as well.” Collectively both the GEO Group and CCA has poured over $400,000 into President Donald Trump’s inauguration, as reported by USAToday. Needless to say, President Trump is an avid supporter of privatizing US prisons.
The National Institute on Money and Politics, an acclaimed resource in the United States for tracking money within the political spectrum, has reported that the GEO Group has given over 5 million dollars to Republican candidates spanning over 16 years. This is due to the immense support among Republicans in border control and immigration reform.
Although these corporations deny lobbying for or against any specific legislation, it is evident that there is favoritism in what party they choose to distribute the bulk of their funds to. Lobbying makes it more likely that bills promoting border security will pass. This directly causes increased profits for private prisons especially considering that US immigration authorities use private prisons to house 62% of the roughly 400,000 people detained each year by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to Business Insider.
Supporters of privatizing of prisons say it ultimately saves the government money in addition to resources, but there is little to no evidence to support the claim.
The Bureau of Justice Assistance released a 2001 study, the synopsis of these findings were published to U.S Department of Justice’s Monograph. Regarding private prisons saving the government money, the monograph concludes, “The study resulted in some interesting conclusions. For example, it was discovered that, rather than the projected 20-percent savings, the average saving from privatization was only about 1 percent, and most of that was achieved through lower labor costs.” Many private prisons are not properly staffed, nor do they meet the safety requirements set by the government which leads to violence and assaults like what occurred in 2004 when riots broke out at the privately-owned Crowley County Correctional Facility in southern Colorado.
A more recent example was in January 2012, when the Corrections Corporation of America bought Lake Erie Correctional Facility. Eight months later, the facility underwent an internal audit that revealed a significant drop in their compliance rating. The rating dropped from 97.3 percent when publicly owned down to 66.7 percent, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Although some argue privatizing prisons saves the government money, the government retains a fixed cost in assisting private prisons. Fixed costs include adequate consistent monitoring, case management, routine inspection, convict transportation, and cultivating response teams among other expenses. Private prisons have ample techniques used for driving costs down and have more say on which inmates they house. This gives them permission to exempt any inmates with psychological and physical illnesses that would need additional medical care. These factors can also reflect when comparing costs to private verses public prisons.
By privatizing prisons, the United States allows major corporations to profit from incarceration rates. Privatizing prisons can relieve stress from state run facilities by allocating inmates to privately owned entities with additional space; however, the government needs make sure privately owned correctional facilities are abiding by safety and healthy regulations.
By debating cost effectiveness of America’s prison system, we are merely treating the symptoms and not the disease. The grim concern we are facing is that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, so we need to focus on reducing incarceration rates by reevaluating our policies and judiciary system.