Yesterday, 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.
It's already an established fact that when the primary goal of any company is profit above any and all else, corruption, abuse, and oppression are quick to follow, and we'd be naive to believe it wouldn't happen in prison. Prisoners are already routinely abused and raped, not to mention murdered in higher-security facilities. Prisoners are often treated like animals with little hope of actual rehabilitation, and many are released only to go right back in after job and housing prospects are shown to be minimal.
The horrific effects of this apparently booming industry are endless. In one case, two judges were found to have accepted bribes from private prison industry to send juveniles away for nearly a year for nothing more than what was apparently some adolescent Facebook bullshit. Commonly, non-violent offenders being placed with murderers and rapists for crimes that, in many cases, were victimless. Think of marijuana laws, for example. How many non-violent marijuana users and sellers are in prison because they committed a federal offense that didn't hurt a soul? How many lives have been ruined because of the greed and corruption behind the privatization of prisons?
And regardless of what you think criminals "deserve," consider the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, in which mentally healthy, paid men who volunteered to be a part of the experiment were organized into groups of prisoners and guards in a mock prison in the basement of Stanford University:
The prisoners began to suffer a wide array of humiliations and punishments at the hands of the guards, and many began to show signs of mental and emotional distress.
On the second day of the experiment, the prisoners organized a mass revolt and riot, as a protest about the conditions. Guards worked extra hours and devised a strategy to break up and put down the riot, using fire-extinguishers.
No prompt for this action was given by Zimbardo; the guards used their own initiative to formulate the plan.
Standard prisoner counts and roll-call became a trial of ordeal and ritual humiliation for the prisoners, with forced exercise and physical punishments becoming more and more common. Mattresses were confiscated from the prisoners and they were forced to sleep on cold, hard floors.
Toilet facilities became a privilege, instead of a basic human right, with access to the bathroom being frequently denied; the inmates often had to clean the toilet facilities with their bare hands. Prisoners were often stripped and subjected to sexual humiliation, as a weapon of intimidation.
The Stanford Prison Experiment showed that one third of the guards began to show an extreme and imbedded streak of sadism, and Zimbardo himself started to become internalized in the experiment. Two of the prisoners had to be removed early because they were showing real signs of emotional distress.
This isn't sustainable, and it does nothing but further harm people who are either already in desperate need of help, minors, and obviously, folks who quite simply don't even deserve to be in prison in the first place. It's costing the United States a fortune, for those who are concerned primarily with the financial aspects of this human rights tragedy. It's a terrible tragedy and a revolting reality for a nation that we were raised to believe is above this sort of treatment of our fellow humans. The worst part is that, for all of the chit-chat about how we'd all like to see the prison populations decrease, it sure as hell won't happen without a fight. The private prison industry's profits absolutely guarantee it.