Prison Industry: A Big Business

Prison Industry: A Big Business

A significant amount of the United States population is behind bars; in fact this country holds the title for having the highest incarceration rate in the world. It became more apparent in the 1980’s when the “tough on crime” laws were established. Since then, mass incarceration rates have strikingly multiplied. Most of the prisons in the United States are supervised by private, for-profit companies which gives them control over the amount of people incarcerated as well as the conditions inside prisons.

With an exponential increase with people inside prisons, the private prison industry will experience gross profits higher each year. These private entities yield cash from a multitude of sources that most people do not think about. For example they gain profit from the inmates due to unpaid or underpaid labor, property inside prisons, and charging the prisoners unreasonable price for phone calls.

Prisons run by private companies lead to higher incarceration as they focus more on profits before people. Therefore, instead of the main goal being to offer a correctional facility for criminals, it becomes a facility that is run by a growing need to arrest, to hold inmates for longer periods, to come up with disincentives for rehabilitation which trigger increased recidivism, and to reduce expenditures as much as is possible.

Anyone who is a potential inmate is considered a form of revenue that the private prison needs in order to remain functioning. This paper argues that these private prisons have a main goal of obtaining and retaining the highest number of inmates as is possible. Therefore, increasing and maintaining high recidivism rates is important for business as it means there will be more inmates in the prison. Hence, the rationale is that the more the people who are incarcerated, the more the profits will be for the private prison.

The population of the United States represents five percent of the total population of the world. Unfortunately, it is also the state which seems to host a quarter of the total number of prisoners in the world. The rates of prisoners between 1980 and 2008 featured a sharp rise as a result of the number increasing to 2.3 million prisoners (Bernd et al. 20). This figure has been progressing gradually in previous years only to become accelerated in the 1980s. This is the reason why the prison facilities started experiencing issues such as overcrowding of prisoners and instability of the facilities.

Prison Privatization was introduced in 1980’s as a way to deal with these issues of overcrowded prisons. Creating two separate entities helped relieve some of the congestion as the private institutions offered more space. By 2013, the total number of prisoners held on private correctional facilities was approximately 100,000 (Lichtenstein 115).

In 2016, the total number of inmates had increased significantly to approximately 2,298,300 individuals (Eaglin 59). Therefore, it means that the need for more privatized prisons was experienced as having them all in one overcrowded area made it impossible to monitor and control them. As a result, riots would occur among the inmates hence placing their lives at risk. The more the number of prisoners is, the higher the need for private correctional facilities.

The history of prison labor in the private prison industry started in late 1800s. Inmates were asked to work in plantations and railroads (Schultz 93). During those period of time, the government gave private companies contract to provide all the materials needed inside the prisons. However, throughout the years, private entities has evolved into “complete privatization” (Schultz 93) and has control over the “inmate housing, supervision, and management” (Schultz 93), including the inmates inside it. The government essentially let private companies do more and more. Eventually, this presents an opportunity for those businesses to make profit by making inmates work and charging them next to nothing, and charging prisoners for necessities.

This rapid expansion of private prisons, on the other hand, represents severe consequences for the society. There is notion that harsher sentencing laws were passed which triggered this rise in incarceration. Unfortunately, many scholars fail to discuss the matter of there being some kind of incentives behind these laws. The fact that private correctional facilities are depending on the profits of having more inmates is partially to blame. This is why individuals are given longer and stricter sentences even when they have committed less serious offences. This is because there is simply a need to convict more individuals who will drive the profits much higher.

Since the private and public prisons are now partners who are given the role of protecting both their inmates and the society from crime, it is evident that they will both play a role to ensure more incarcerations so that the more profitable private institutions may flourish. When this happens, it becomes a win-win situation for both parties.  The private correctional facilities are still expected to discuss issues pertaining to costs and funding. This is where they take advantage by passing policies such as the Zero Tolerance Act and the Comprehensive Crime Control Act and the Sentencing Reform Act which led to the replacement of federal parole with mandatory minimum sentence laws. Therefore, the private institutions are now responsible for determining how long the prisoner stays in the institution.

The privatization of prison from public to private was seen as beneficial to the government because they get to do less work and private companies have more resources to help improve the process of rehabilitation. Private companies were seen as more rich financially because the government only depended on taxes and taxpayers who hate it when their taxes rise, especially if it is to fund prisons. With the monetary advantages, private companies could use new technology in prison and as a result could renovate old building and making them new, clean, and safe, and transform prison to become a better place.

Prisons at one time were seen as areas for dangerous criminals to be locked up so that society would be safe (Whitehead n.p). But according to this article, prisons have become nothing more than another area of investment for private investors. For instance, the GEO Group stocks and the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) stocks have been increasing drastically just after their request to restructure into a Real Estate Investment Trust despite being prison corporations (Scott 30). CCA is a private company that offered 48 states contracts to take care of their prisons. Although this deal may seem good and cost effective, the CCA views prisons as an investment opportunity.

When it comes to prisons, the amount of prisoners inside is directly related to how much the company profits. Therefore, CCA proposed major laws about incarceration. Prisoners must serve a minimum of 25 years in prison up to a lifetime and prisoners must serve most or all of their team (Scott 37). Meaning, that less people are paroled early for good behavior or other good deeds.

Many states have agreed to this, resulting in the amount of state run prisons to decrease and moving more prisoners to private run prisons. Since the 1990’s, the population of private prison has increased sevenfold. The same view is what the GEO takes when it comes to the need to maintain prisoners. Considering these high profits, it is evident that corporations are actually using the prisoners to lobby money by making their lives expensive and exploiting their man power (Scott 43).

The privatization of prisons can also be linked to the school-to-prison pipeline. The school-to-prison pipeline is a term used to define the criminalizing of children and youth by undertaking disciplinary practices which brings the child in contact with law enforcement (Epperson 690). The Zero tolerance policies are employed in such cases to criminalize even the slightest behavioral problems that are common in children and youth of given ages (Aman Jr 359). This tends to happen even for the behavioral problems that could have been resolved effectively at school. It is as a result of the privatization of correctional facilities as the government and corporation owners will do everything in their power to get more inmates even the juveniles.

In most cases, the children of color get affected and this tends to impact their lives even after they grow up. Once the child is out of the facility, the resulting embarrassment and discrimination from friends may make them become actual criminals, hence leading to even more inmates being incarcerated. In more extreme cases, minor criminals, from drug users to petty thieves, are being handed over to corporations for lengthy prison sentences which do nothing to protect society or prevent recidivism which will be discussed.

African Americans used to be imprisoned for petty crimes simply for the purpose of gaining more human labor. This case was often present in the past but has turned into a sort of poor “culture” now in America as this case would still occasionally happen especially to African Americans. This is the culmination of an inverted justice system which has come to characterize the United States, a justice system based upon increasing the power and wealth of the corporate-state.

This privatization has increased incarceration which leads to impacts on the inmates. What was meant to offer them safety is now exploiting them fully. Private companies are not focusing on improving prison facilities, instead their goals is to seek and maximize profit. Privatization became a term of “contractually separate.” which means a term to separate the private prisoners from public prisoners (Aman Jr 359). This is because of the different labor, service, construction, and management.

Private companies manage their prison differently and mostly based on profit. The term used for these companies is “financialization.” (Aman Jr 363). Because companies want to spend less money, they have ways to minimize their expenditure. The working program in the prison gives out jobs for the prisoners to do and prisons could pay them next to nothing because they had no other choice. On top of that, it has encouraged more discrimination against the blacks who are always assumed to be criminals. On average, white people and minorities sell drugs at similar levels but 57% more people of color are incarcerated (Scott 47). As a result more people of color, face this greedy, private run prison.

Prisoners in federal prisons are required to do labor work which involves a few programs to reform it. One of the program that is targeting to reform prison labor is called Federal Prison Industries Inc. or UNICOR. UNICOR employs “twenty two percent of all federal prisoners” (Aman Jr. 394). Their goal is to integrate punishment and work as a rehabilitation for the prisoners.

Aman Jr. explains that the prisoners earn wages but mostly it goes back to the prison firm to assist in the maintenance fees of the prisoners (396). This shows that prisoners are not really treated fairly, since employed people should earn something for their efforts and is a part of human rights. Therefore, even though the program is made to change and reform the prison system, but it does not seem so based on the evidence above. Work is done not to sentence prisoners anymore but to increase the profit of the prison.

Recidivism is the act in which people who have been criminalized are more likely to reoffend. Due to the articles, people might think that criminals offend again because the hardship and labors of jail have scarred them for life (Eaglin 62). However, this is not true. For instance, a prevalent issue in Washington is called Ban the Box. This issue refers to employers asking if applicants have had a criminal history. Applicants that check yes are immediately taken out of the running for the position. This is unfair because it takes seven years of perfect behavior in order to get an offense taken off your record.

With this tiny boxed checked, ex criminals are unable to find jobs and then resort to crime to survive (Eaglin 65). They are then thrown back into the corrupt prison system that is driven to make money and not reeducate. This cycle continues over again and over again. It is not the criminals who are failing, it is the system that is corrupted.

On top of that, it was stated previously that people of color have a higher incarceration rate than white people, around 57% more (Eaglin 67). Meaning that more people of color are caught, sent to jail, released, and resort to crime again because of inability to find job. Recently, Washington has been trying to abolish this law so that we can help ex convicts assimilate back into society because if they are being a well behaved and productive citizens, they should not have to face the digressions of their past.

In conclusion, it is evident that privatization of prisons has brought worse experiences than what was considered before. It is unfair to keep human beings locked up even after they finish their sentence just to gain some financial profits. In addition, it has led to these correctional facilities failing in their role as the main goal is no longer to reform the criminal but to use him to get some financial incentives. Therefore, there is a need to make changes on this system of at all the inmates are meant to benefit. Also, the children and youth should be protected from this kind of exploitation which has the capability of ruining the rest of their lives.

Works Cited

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Aviram, Hadar. “Are Private Prisons to Blame for Mass Incarceration and Its Evils? Prison Conditions, Neoliberalism, and Public Choice.” Fordham Urban Law Journal, vol. 42, no. 2, Dec. 2014, pp. 411-49. Academic Search Complete, Accessed 23 Oct. 2017.

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Lichtenstein, Alex. “Flocatex and the Fiscal Limits of Mass Incarceration: Toward a New Political Economy of the Postwar Carceral State.” Journal of American History, vol. 102, no. 1, June 2015, pp. 113-125. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1093/jahist/jav308.

Mason, Cody. Too Good to be True | Private Prisons in America. The Sentencing Project, Jan. 2012. The Sentencing Project, Accessed 21 Nov. 2017.

Schultz, Carla. “Prison Privatization: Driving Influences and Performance Evaluation.” Themis: Research Journal of Justice Studies and Forensic Science, vol. 3, no. 1, Spring 2015. SJSU ScholarWorks, Accessed 14 Nov. 2017.

Scott, Winifred D. “Investigating the Need for Transparent Disclosures of Political Campaign Contributions and Lobbying Expenditures by U.S. Private Prison Corporations.” Accounting & the Public Interest, vol. 15, no. 1, Jan. 2015, pp. 27-52. EBSCOhost, doi:10.2308/apin-51401.

“The War on Drugs and Mass Incarceration.” Georgetown University Law Library, Accessed 9 Nov. 2017.

Whitehead, John W. “Jailing Americans for Profit: The Rise of the Prison Industrial Complex.” The Huffington Post, 10 Apr. 2012, Accessed 23 Oct. 2017.