Despite Problems, Private Prisons Are Growing

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The private prison field is dominated by a few companies that have swallowed the competition and entrenched their positions through aggressive lawyering, intricate financial arrangements and bribery and kickbacks, the New York Times reports. Private prison companies house nine percent of the nation’s prisoners. They emerged in the 1980s, when the number of inmates was outstripping capacity, and they have an outsize influence in several states, including Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Mississippi and New Mexico. Despite hundreds of lawsuits, findings that private prisons save taxpayers little to no money, and evidence of repeated constitutional violations, the number of privately housed inmates has risen faster since 2000 than the overall number of prisoners. In 2016, the number rose by about 1.5 percent.

States that have sworn off private prisons, or tried to cut back on their use, have found it difficult to extricate themselves. The major private prison firms are GEO Group, based in Florida; CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), based in Tennessee; and MTC, based in Utah. George Zoley, chief executive of GEO Group, made $9.6 million in 2017 — almost double his 2016 earnings. Damon Hininger, CoreCivic’s chief executive, earned $2.3 million in total compensation in 2017. GEO Group and CoreCivic, which are publicly traded, had revenues last year of $2.3 billion and $1.8 billion. Much less is known about MTC, which is privately held. Industry officials say they provide cost-effective ways to house inmates, and that they are expanding into rehabilitation programs. CoreCivic says about 10,000 people in its facilities have obtained high school equivalency diplomas in the past five years. Some lawmakers say the claims of cost savings and other benefits do not check out. “There is no convincing argument of why we should have private prisons,” said Mike Fasano, a former Florida state senator who voted against a 2012 measure to privatize much of Florida’s prison system.


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