Prisons for Profit?  Really?

Contributed by Paige Barnett.

Prisons for profit is a thing in the land of liberty and the supposed free. We are led to believe that in the United States justice will be served with just prudence. We would like to believe that people who have committed crimes will not over nor under serve their due time.  However, this is not always the case.

“Private prisons” made a comeback in the 1980s after they were prohibited in the early 20th century. Today there are 27 states that use private corporations to manage their prison populations. Prisons and profit are two words that should never be in the same sentence, let alone be a serious, real-life civil rights issue.

By definition a private prison or a prison for profit is a place where “private prison companies typically enter into contractual agreements with governments that commit prisoners and then pay a per diem or monthly rate, either for each prisoner in the facility, or for each available bed, whether occupied or not. Such contracts may be only for the operation of a facility, or can encompass the design, construction and operation.”

These for-profit prison corporations view themselves as an asset to the public sector. The justification for the use of prisons for profit/private prisons, is that it should save taxpayers money. They believe they can more efficiently operate prisons and that the profit motive demands cuts to superfluous expenses.  

In the name of profits and cutting expenses, however, underpaid guards frequently lead to understaffed prisons. Understaffed prisons inevitably fall prey to the inability to manage gang violence and increases the potential for escapees. This for-profit model promotes down right unsafe conditions.   

In addition, expose’s like “The Kids for Cash Scandal” demonstrate a profoundly disturbing civil rights violation. Judges in Wilkes-Barre, PA, were found to have adjudicated juveniles for longer sentences than were warranted for the crime, and were ultimately indicted on 48 counts.

Further, research shows a higher rate of recidivism in prisoners released from a private prison, plus a lack of programs focused on rehabilitation. According to a DOJ study, 50 percent of incarcerated people return to prison within three years of being released. Here’s the kicker: Academic research found that incarcerating people in prisons operated by private companies, which have business models dependent on incarceration, increases the likelihood of those people recidivating. There is no incentive to rehabilitate prisoners to reduce the rates of recidivism. It’s not just cost-efficient to put money into programs that help enable ‘clientele’ stay out of prison if the reason for existing is to ensure a profit. The very nature of a prison for profit model means to keep people incarcerated for as long as possible. 

Is it any wonder why the United States is Number One among all nations in rates of incarceration? Are we really just? In light of numerous civil liberty violations, especially of young people, it begs the question, should prisons garner a profit?  And if so, how can these prisons be regulated to prevent this type of corruption?


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