In recent years, private prison companies have quietly been striking deals to handle correctional care beyond prisons and detention centers, adapting to changing opinions about mass incarceration.
For decades, private prison companies have made billions in revenue, operating correctional and detention facilities on the behalf of overburdened states; last year, the combined revenue for CCA and GEO exceeded $3.5 billion. But nationwide efforts to scale back mass incarceration and cut down on harsh sentencing have posed problems to private corporations' revenue models.
Corporations like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, whose businesses had been largely dependent on putting and keeping people behind bars, have diversified and now include the treatment and care of those within the criminal justice system — but not necessarily locked up in its cells.
That means private contracts for out-of-jail services like "probation and parole services, halfway houses, day reporting centers, drug and alcohol treatment programs, home confinement, electronic monitoring, and various supportive services such as educational classes and job training," Arjun Sethi, who teaches law at Georgetown University, and Cate Graziani, a mental health campaign coordinator at a national non-profit that studies private prisons, wrote in Politico.
Researchers who have studied the transition call it the "treatment industrial complex." Activists worry about the incentives of corrections companies "whose bottom line depends on the growth of supervised populations, rather than their rehabilitation and treatment," Sethi and Graziani wrote.
"As state governments work to reduce prison populations by creating alternatives to incarceration, the private prison industry is rebranding itself and taking over treatment alternatives," Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, said in a statement. Grassroots Leaderships released a report on private operation of mental health facilities back in March.
As private prison companies move to adapt, researchers point to private corporations' sketchy record of handling the care and safety of inmates housed in their prisons to discredit claims that they are well-positioned to transition into treatment and care providers. There have already been lawsuits brought by prisoners against private care providers in New York, and calls for federal intervention after a gruesome Florida case involving a mentally ill man who died after allegedly being left in a scalding bathtub for hours.
As Sethi and Graziani note in Politico, these are just some of the complaints "now proliferating regarding [private prison companies'] treatment and rehabilitation programs."