Private Prisons Spend Millions to Put More People in Jail

private prisonsWednesday, the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) released a report chronicling the political strategies of private prison companies “working to make money through harsh policies and longer sentences.” The report’s authors note that while the total number of people in prison increased less than 16 percent, the number of people held in private federal and state facilities increased by 120 and 33 percent, correspondingly. Government spending on corrections has soared since 1997 by 72 percent, up to $74 billion in 2007. And the private prison industry has raked in tremendous profits. Last year the two largest private prison companies — Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group — made over $2.9 billion in revenue.

JPI claims the private industry hasn’t merely responded to the nation’s incarceration woes, it has actively sought to create the market conditions (ie. more prisoners) necessary to expand its business.

According to JPI, the private prison industry uses three strategies to influence public policy: lobbying, direct campaign contributions, and networking. The three main companies have contributed $835,514 to federal candidates and over $6 million to state politicians. They have also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on direct lobbying efforts. CCA has spent over $900,000 on federal lobbying and GEO spent anywhere from $120,000 to $199,992 in Florida alone during a short three-month span this year. Meanwhile, “the relationship between government officials and private prison companies has been part of the fabric of the industry from the start,” notes the report. The cofounder of CCA himself used to be the chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party.

The impact that the private prison industry has had is hard to deny. In Arizona, 30 of the 36 legislators who co-sponsored the state’s controversial immigration law that would undoubtedly put more immigrants behind bars received campaign contributions from private prison lobbyists or companies. Private prison businesses been involved in lobbying efforts related to a bill in Florida that would require privatizing all of the prisons in South Florida and have been heavily involved in appropriations bills on the federal level.

Andrea NillTracy Velázquez, executive director of JPI recommends that we “take a hard look at what the cost of this influence is, both to taxpayers and to the community as a whole, in terms of the policies being lobbied for and the outcomes for people put in private prisons.”

Andrea Nill-Sanchez
Think Progress


  1. says

    But still, we have to detain criminals. Can you imagine what would happen, if we were to turn all of these people loose? If any thing, once the prisons have been financed and built, lock the financiers up right along with the other prisoners, and 2-problems would be solved.

  2. annieR says

    I’ve been screaming about the implications of private prisons for years, often to people who didn’t even know they existed. How many people do you know who are aware of judges taking bribes to deprive juveniles of lawyers and shipping them off to privately funded juvenile detention facilities where they’re sentenced to hugely inappropriate terms for minute (if any) offenses? Here in Arizona, Gov. Brewer refused to copnsider the case of one man whom her own parole board said should be released (elderly, already served more than 30 years). One of Brewer’s closest assistants is heavily involved in legislation affecting private prisons. Every mouth fed, of course, is money in the pockets of CCA. “The New Jim Crow,” indeed!

  3. says

    Regardless of the vulgarity above:

    n the costs of incarceration, $3 billion is a modest portion. Deportation does not add prisoners. It reduces costs of incarceration per prisoner.

    There are plenty of federal laws regarding inmate labor. Anything that is created outside of the operation of a prison is monitored closely. Much of their earnings are required to go to the support of their families and the payments of fines.

    Regarding slavery, it helps if you read the Constitution. Convicts have privileges, not rights. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, EXCEPT AS A PUNISHMENT FOR CRIME WHEREOF THE PARTY SHALL HAVE BEEN DULY CONVICTED, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. GIDEON Vs WAINWRIGHT exists for the purpose of continuing due process, but rapists, robbers, murderers do not have rights since they took them from others.

    The reality is laws have been made less and less punitive. We do not execute people for rape. It is highly unlikely murderers will be executed. Rapists and drunk drivers never pay the true cost of the damage they do. Drunk drivers kill more people, leave more people crippled, and cause more property loss than all other crimes put together. The US has a higher incarceration rate because they catch more criminals and execute far fewer than other nations.

    Why do you want to justify murderers, robbers, and rapists? Why do you want to support the Mexican Cartels engaged in human trafficking, drug trafficking, murders, robbery, kidnapping, and rape?

    At what point do you finally hold people responsible for their antisocial behavior and put them where they cannot abuse others?

  4. says

    “The Prison Industrial Complex” (and what a concept indeed!) That’s right, boys and girls, your government is in the process of turning over the prison system to the blinking private sector. If you have yet to be acquainted with the ramifications of this nasty development, allow me to enlighten you if I may:

    All of us (or most of us I hope) long for a day when societal ills are forever eradicated, and America’s prison population is diminished to a barely perceptible molecule of what is is today. It’s a beautiful dream, is it not? You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. But it’s a dream that is never going to see the light of day if these people have their way. Why?

    Here’s why: Corporations are not created in order to fail. In fact their entire reason for existing is to expand. That is what the founders of IBM had in mind when they started that company 100 years ago this month. They wanted to reach into every facet of American life – and they succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. Just look around you. IBM is everywhere.

    By privatizing the American prison system these assholes have created a brand-spanking-new corporate class whose very existence will depend upon those prisons being filled to the rafters with human beings – FOREVER! As a result the owners will send lobbyists to Washington, who will then bribe our representatives into passing more-and-more punitive laws that will ensure that those prisons are booked to capacity.

    How will they make a profit? Forced industrial labor – which will be just another drain on American jobs. Think about that: Forced labor. It’s something that was officially terminated in this nation one-hundred and forty-six years ago. It was called “slavery”. Remember that “peculiar institution”?

    Mah! Mah! The ol’ plantation sho has changed!

    Unlike Nixon’s phony “War on Drugs” which was launched 40 years ago this month, the targets of the next mass incarceration won’t be merely blacks and minorities. Here’s a little prediction you can take to the bank, kids: When the prison industrial complex of the right wing’s rancid dreams is finally a universal reality in this dying country, it won’t mean a damned difference what your race is – we’ll all be Corporate America’s patsies then. I’ve never been a betting man, but this is too good an opportunity to pass up. Would anyone care to make a little wager on that prediction? Any takers? Hmm???

    Why is it that most people refuse to understand what an insanely, monstrous idea this is?

    Tom Degan


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