‘Political Influence’ Key to Increase in Private Prison Population: Report

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Photo by ChangTing via Flickr

The number of people housed in private prisons increased five times faster than the total prison population between 2000 and 2016, says “Capitalizing on Mass Incarceration,” a new report from The Sentencing Project, an advocacy organization that supports alternatives to incarceration.

During the same period, the number of people detained in private immigration facilities increased by 442 percent.

“Political influence has been instrumental in determining the growth of for-profit private prisons and continues today in various ways,” the report says.

“If overall prison populations continue the current trend of modest decline, the privatization debate will likely intensify as opportunities for the prison industry dry up and corrections companies seek profit in other areas of criminal justice services and immigration detention.”

The report notes that the federal government is the nation’s largest user of
private prisons, but it has reduced its population in private prisons in recent years.

Still, Attorney General Jeff Sessions last year withdrew an Obama administration directive to phase out private prison contracting, saying the directive had “impaired”  the federal corrections system’s ability “to meet future needs.”

Among other findings of the report:

  • Of the total U.S. prison population, one in 12 people (128,063) was incarcerated
    in private prisons in 2016, an increase of 47 percent since 2000.
  • The top three states in numbers of inmates in private facilities as of 2016 were Texas, with nearly 13,700, Florida, with more than 12,000, and Arizona, with more than 8,200.
  • The largest private prison corporations, Core Civic and GEO Group, collectively
    manage more than half of U.S. private prison contracts, with combined
    revenues of $3.5 billion as of 2015.
  • Private-prison firms often trim budgets by employing mostly non-union and low-skilled workers at lower salaries and offer limited benefits compared with staff at publicly run institutions.
  •  Cost savings claims associated with prison privatization are unfounded, based on research over decades.

This summary was prepared by Ted Gest, president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments welcome.

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