30 June 2014, 19:36

By Tawab Malekzad

WASHINGTON (VR) – The United States imprisons more people than any other nation in the world, according to a reports released this month by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). With 5% of world’s population, the US has nearly 25% of the world’s inmates, according to the report. This means one out of every 100 American adults is currently behind bars.

A similar report, released in March by the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative, says the United States has roughly 2.4 million people incarcerated in federal, state or local prisons and jails.

But while the number of incarcerated people has grown sevenfold, the number of homicides have dropped significantly between 1990 and 2011, according to a report released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and obtained by talking points memo.

“Thanks to the ‘War on Drugs,’ irrationally harsh sentencing regimes, and a refusal to consider evidence-based alternatives, the U.S. prison population grew by more than 700% between 1970 and 2009—far outpacing both population growth and crime rates,” the ACLU report states.

The Rise of Private Prisons

In order to keep up with the growing influx of prisoners, the federal and state governments turned to private investors to fund new prisons and run them.

Today’s modern private prison system was first established in 1984, when a Tennessee based company, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), was granted a contract to take over a jail facility in Hamilton County, Tennessee. Thomas Beasley, a Republican activist, founded the CCA in 1983.

State and federal governments have stated that the main reason for signing contracts with private prison facilities is that they can save money.

Carl Takei, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project, disagrees.

“The evidence of cost saving is mixed,” said Takei.

A study done by two Temple University economics professors, Erwin Blackstone and Simon Hakim, concludes that privately operated prisons could substantially cut costs from 12% to 58% in long-term savings. The study, “Cost Analysis of Public and Contractor-Operated Prisons,” released in April 2013, also states that private prisons preform at equal or better levels than government run prisons.

Takei, however, argued that Blackstone and Hakim “failed to disclose the source of funding for their study. The study was funded by [the] private corrections industry.”

Another report, by Philip Mattera and Mufruza Khan, says that CCA wanted to take over the entire prison system of Tennessee after their first contract, but due to pressure from the public on the state legislature they did not succeed.

And Tennesseans were right. The rate of incidents involving assaults and disturbances in Tennessee private prisons are higher than state prisons, according to a study by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).

Radio VR approached CCA’s public affairs officer, Steve Owen, three times by phone but he was not available to comment on the number of facilities CCA is currently running.

Together with CCA, the GEO Group and Management and Training Corporation (MTC) own the majority of the private prisons in the US, according to Takei.

The private prisons corporations’ main way of cutting costs is cutting spending in bettering the security and safety condition of the prisons.

Private prison employees overall receive 58 hours less training than government employees, according to the AFSC report. This cut back on the number of hours can compromise the safety and security of the inmates and the employees.

Additionally, private prisons remain almost always understaffed due to high employee turnover rates. Consequently, private prisons have higher rate of escapes in comparison to state or federal prisons.

Economics of Private Prisons

Private prison corporations have used different strategies to maintain their profitability.

Lobbyists: Private prisons corporations are businesses and prisoners are their merchandise – If people are not in prison, then the corporations that own them don’t get paid. The private prison complex industry hires lobbyists to advocate for longer and harsher prison sentences. Besides hiring lobbyists, the private prisons complex structures their contracts with states and federal government in way that requires them to send more people to prison.

CCA sent a letter to 48 prisons across the country, a copy of which was obtained by The Huffington Post, where Harley Lappin, CCA’s chief correction officer, offers the company’s services on the basis of a 20-year contract, provided there is 90% plus occupancy at the facilities.

Lappin is a former director of Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Private prison companies are also working on criminalization of immigration. According to the ACLU, in 2009 more people entered federal prison for “immigration offenses than violent, weapons, and property offenses combined.” Currently, there are more than 25,000 immigrant prisoners in thirteen private prisons across the country.

Political donations: Paul Ashton author of Game the System states that private prison companies are involved in “campaign donations.” He states that private prisons have contributed “$835,514 to federal candidates and $6,092,331 to state-level candidates since 2000.”

He also adds “private prison companies’ interests lie in promoting their business through maintaining political relationships rather than saving taxpayer dollars and effectively ensuring public safety.”


US, american civil liberties union, War on Drugs, Paul Ashton, Tawab Malekzad, United States Prisons system , Federal Bureau of Investigation , homicides , Prison Policy Initiative, Private Prisons, private prison system , Corrections Corporation of America , cca, Thomas Beasley, Carl Takei, Temple University , Erwin Blackstone , Simon Hakim, Lobbyists, Harley Lappin, Political donations, private prison companies, Politics
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