Prison Industrial Complex

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Mass Incarceration

In 1983 the nation’s largest private prison corporation the Corrections Corporation of America was founded. The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) controls more than 47% of all private prison and jail beds nationwide and produces a 13% to 15% return annually on investment. This company is the nation's largest owner and operator of privatized correctional and detention facilities and one of the largest prison operators in the United States, behind only the federal government and three states. They specialize in owning, operating and managing prisons and other correctional facilities and providing inmate residential and prisoner transportation services for governmental agencies.

The Corrections Corporation of America began capitalizing on the expansion of state prison system in the early 80s and early 90s at the height of the 'war on drugs’ campaign, contracting with state governments to build or manage new prisons to house an influx of drug offenders. Currently the Corrections Corporation of America owns and operates more than 65 facilities including 47 company-owned facilities, with a design capacity of more than 90,000 beds in 19 states and the District of Columbia.

Many would also ask how they did this. The Corrections Corporation of America did this by sending letters to 48 states offering to buy up their prisons as a remedy for challenging corrections budgets. In exchange, the company asked for and received a 20-year management contract, plus an assurance that the prison would remain at least 90 percent full from participating states. The result being the Corrections Corporation becoming a fast growing business, with revenues expanding more than five times since the mid 1990s. How are states assuring the Corrections Corporation of America that their prison facilities remain at 90% capacity? If the intent of our criminal justice system is to reduce crime and reduce recidivism, I believe that assurance of 90% capacity would be impossible to maintain and that this would create a problem in regards to payment for the state. Since this assurance is a guarantee, the CCA are going to be paid regardless of their capacity, so to continue justifying payment states have to consider it in their best interest to make sure these facilities reach that objective. The mandate to keep prisons full raises questions about cost efficiency what if there aren't enough inmates? It also presents a moral question on behalf about maintaining a constant supply of new prisoners. According to Shakyra Diaz, policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio "It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, in order to have it at 90 percent; you need to be able to make criminals to continue to fill it at 90 percent."

This has resulted in a booming industry despite any economic recession we may be experiencing here in the United States. According to Jay Colligan, who wrote an excellent article for the political blog Force Change called ‘Tell Wells Fargo to stop pouring millions into the private prison industry’, “at the end of 2010 there were over 2 million American adults incarcerated. The rate of incarceration among the general population has risen steeply, up 50% since the mid-1990s, and it continues to rise today.

That rapid growth has forced states and the federal government to catch up to growing demand for updating old facilities and building new prisons. The private prison industry has stepped in to fill the gap and cash in on the imprisonment of largely non-violent criminals; and their industry is only projected to grow as demand continues to rise for new prisons and detention facilities.” (Colligan, 2012) In his article Colligan explains that one of the largest of these profiteering companies is The GEO Group Inc second only to CCA., is also one of the largest corporations specializing in production and management of correctional and detention facilities in the...
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