The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) just sent a letter to 48 states offering to buy all of their prisons. The letter claimed that privatization would be a good solution to “challenging corrections budgets.” One major stipulation in the deal is that the states will have to guarantee a 90% occupancy rate for the duration of the contract. This concept is a principle the state should be diametrically opposed to, considering that the government’s goal should always be to reduce the prison population, not guarantee it. The moral implications for an arrangement like this are quite severe as we saw in Wilkes-Barre PA, where two Luzerne County Judges, Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, took $2.6 million in payoffs to put children in prison for months for stealing loose change from cars, writing prank notes, and possessing drug paraphernalia. Many of these kids had never been in trouble before and the sentences went against the recommendations of leniency from the probation officers. Thousands of cases are now being reviewed to see if the sentences should be overturned.
The CCA letter left out the fact that a lot of the “challenging corrections budgets” are actually being caused by private prisons like CCA. The two largest private prison companies in America, Corrections Corporation of America and GEO (formerly Wackenhut), are large contributors to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which pushes for restrictive laws and severe sentencing policies. ALEC recently campaigned for an Arizona law that makes the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and forces police officers to incarcerate people who can’t prove they entered the country legally. That law passed, and now provides a huge revenue stream for private prisons in Arizona.
Paying to keep people in prison to retain jobs or make more money is reprehensible, and these organizations aren’t the only ones doing it. Rolling Stone magazine reported that the California Correctional Peace Officers Association spent $1 million to defeat a California bill that would decriminalize marijuana, because it would have eliminated some of their jobs. The California Police Chiefs Association, alcohol producers, and the California Narcotic Officers’ Association also chipped in to defeat the bill.
The quick fix of privatization has already proved too tempting for some states to resist, but the wholesale outsourcing of the American prison system would spell disaster for civil liberties. America already has the highest incarceration rate on the planet on a per capita basis and in sheer numbers. This moral hazard must not be taken lightly in the future.
The following article provides a full summary of over-incarceration in America: http://thebilzerianreport.com/