Private Prisons and Profits Called Dangerous Combination

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Private prisons are trying to make as much money as possible from putting people in cages that are often considered more dangerous than public facilities while keeping costs low and adapting to the potential scrutiny and restrictions imposed by a Democratic administration in the White House, reports Mic. In 2018, the Sentencing Project reported that the U.S. has the world’s largest private prison population at 128,000 people. And a 2017 report from the Prison Policy Initiative found that the government pays private companies about $4 billion per year to operate prisons that first began operating in the 1980s. There are only two private prison companies dominating the market today: Geo and Corrections Corp. of America, now known as CoreCivic. Together, these two firms claim to control about three-quarters of the private prison industry.

And while proponents claim that private prisons are cheaper than their public counterparts, evidence suggests that they tend to pick and choose who they incarcerate to keep their costs low by avoiding people with greater health needs and offloading those costs onto the government. In addition, private prisons are plagued with issues: people formerly incarcerated in private prisons are twice as likely to report being sexually victimized by staff as people in public facilities and assaults, including physical ones, in private prisons can occur at double the rate of public ones. However, while private prisons are part of the problem, and an easy target for reform, they represent less than 10% of the total 1.5 million people incarcerated in state and federal prisons in the U.S. And while the Biden administration has signaled the potential demise of private prisons for some, the companies are proving highly adaptable, a fact exemplified by Corecivic which started buying up residential re-entry centers, more commonly known as “halfway houses,” in 2014 and by 2020 operated 29.

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