Private Prisons Demand High Occupancy

Federal timeline US prisoners

Federal timeline US prisoners (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

proposal submitted to prison officials in 48 states on behalf of the private Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) has received criticism from civil liberties advocates and state officials.

Henry Lappin, the former director of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, circulated the proposal amongst his former colleagues on behalf of the privately owned corrections company in January of this year – only one year after Lappin resigned from his federal post amidst a controversy surrounding a DUI charge.

The proposal stipulates that CCA would invest 250M in struggling state prison systems, taking over the day-to-day management of any prison willing to agree to CCA’s conditions for a period of 20 years.

At least one of those conditions has raised some eyebrows among civil libertarians, however. As part of the program’s provisions, state governments would be required to keep each privately run prison at 90% occupancy or higher for the duration of two decades, effectively turning state police into delivery men working on behalf of a private corporation.

Texas state Senator John Whitmire went on record criticizing the idea: “You don’t want a prison system operating with the goal of maximizing profits. The only thing worse is that this seeks to take advantage of some states’ troubled financial position.”

And Roger Werholtz, former Kansas state Secretary of Corrections, voiced his concerns over the privatization of justice:

“My concern would be that our state would be obligated to maintain these (occupancy) rates and subtle pressure would be applied to make sentencing laws more severe with a clear intent to drive up the population.”

And of course, that’s been the trend ever since privatization of prisons began in the early 1980s. Since 1984, about 10% of prisons in the American correctional system have been privatized, which translates to roughly 200,000 inmates.

Some have pointed out that prior to prison privatization, the number of Americans incarcerated increased at around the same rate as the population. Between 1980 and the present, however, the numbers increased dramatically, surging from an estimated 500K prisoners nationwide to the current 2.4M in just 30 years. And that’s not counting prisoners on parole. If you factor those numbers in, the number jumps to nearly 7 million people. That’s 1 out of every 32 Americans who are currently under correctional supervision of some kind.

Meanwhile, privately run prisons have come under fire for cutting corners and ignoring safety regulations:

Some claim that private prisons really don’t save money, but like any for-profit business, attempt to maximize their own profit. This results in a reduction of essential services within the prison — from medical care, food and clothing to staff costs and security — at the endangerment of the public, the inmates and the staff.

And as one former employee of a for-profit correctional institute put it:

“…the worst part of working for private corrections was that the profit motivation shirked the ideal of truly working towards rehabilitation, and actually wanting the return business of crime.”

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