Contracting out alternative sentencing programs to private companies is an increasingly attractive option for cash-strapped local governments. But it also saddles thousands of low-income offenders with spiraling debt that can send them to prison if they can’t pay, writes an Oregon law professor.
The devil is in the details of President Joe Biden’s executive order banning private prisons. Its ultimate impact on private prison companies, their shareholders, and most critically, the over two million people in U.S. prisons and detention centers, public and private is unclear, writes Morgan Simon in Forbes.
CoreCivic and the GEO Group, two of the largest U.S. private prison companies, could lose as much as a quarter of their revenue, about $1 billion a year between them, under new limits on the sector announced by President Joe Biden.
The combined state and federal imprisonment rate of 419 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents in 2019 was the lowest imprisonment rate since 1995. The rate has declined further during this year’s pandemic.
The much-advertised bargain to taxpayers provided by private prisons is mostly eradicated by the longer terms served by their inmates, according to a Wisconsin economist. Her comparative study of prisons in Mississippi also found higher rates of recidivism among private incarcerees, further adding to public safety costs.
Fearing a Biden-Harris victory in November, the private prison industry’s campaign donations have increased 14 percent since 2016 while it also secures new contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. As a result, the future of private prisons is all but secured.
A settlement approved this month by a federal judge closed a case alleging that private prison operator CoreCivic and its phone provider, Securus Technologies, illegally monitored and recorded inmate calls.
More than 120,000 inmates are housed in facilities operated by private corporations under contract with the federal and state governments. While that amounts to a relatively small fraction of the total U.S. incarcerated population, for-profit prisons “diminish equality” in the nation’s justice system and should be abolished, says a University of Baltimore Law Review paper.
“What’s happening out there is just ugly,” said Joe Allbaugh, recently resigned Oklahoma corrections director. “There’s no other way to describe it. Each time I bring it up, people see dollar signs. They don’t want to hear about money issues.”
At least 20 pension funds and plans have invested in Geo Group or CoreCivic, the two biggest private prison operators. Some of the largest investments, by pension funds for public sector workers such as teachers and firefighters, come from states with “sanctuary” policies, such as New York, California and Oregon.