Wait, There's Actually Such a Thing as For-Profit Prisons?

September 23rd 2014

Adam Rotstein

When searching for flawed features of America’s prison system, you don’t have to look very hard. Flawed drug policies disproportionately incarcerate minorities and poor rehabilitation programs often lead to repeat sentences. What you may not know is that there is a burgeoning system of private prisons adding their own share of corruption to the mix.

Here’s the deal. The private prison system first picked up pace in 1990 during the Clinton presidency. In response to the cutting of the federal workforce, the Justice department began contracting prison operations to third party companies. Today, there are 18 different corporations in the private prison system that house ten-of-thousands of prisoners in 27 states.

A recent report from In The Public Interest noted that private prison companies strike up deals with states in which they guarantee occupancy rates. Many of these contracts require 90 to 100 percent occupancy. If there are more unfilled beds than agreed upon, the state owes these private companies money. These clauses incentivize criminalization and do little to promote rehabilitation, crime reduction, or community building. 

According to the report, “[These contracts run] counter to many states’ public policy goals of reducing the prison population and increasing efforts for inmate rehabilitation.”

What’s worse: racial disparities in private prisons are even worse than in the public system. Research has shown that private prisons exclude prisoners with high Medicare costs to keep operation costs down. This means that majority of prisoners are young, healthier persons who have mostly come into the system as a result of harsh immigration laws or the war on drugs. 

Attn and OurTime.org co-founder, Matthew Segal. recently alluded to the unjust nature of private prisons on Real Time with Bill Maher. You can watch a clip here: