In America, most prisons are owned by private corporations. Private corporations like to make money. Lots of money. Empty prison beds do not make money, so many states are being urged into contracts with the prisons, pledging to keep the prison anywhere from 70% to 97% full, at all times. So where does the average person come in?
Maybe the average American is not all that affected, but many will be. Parole boards will be urged to deny incarcerated people parole. People will be sent to prison on relatively minor offenses. This will happen, if it’s not already, because when these contracts are in place, when the prison has a contract to keep beds full, they have to pay the corporation whether someone is in that bed or not. That money, dear people, comes from your tax dollars.
Prisons started being outsourced to private companies in the 1970’s because of the war on drugs, prisons were overcrowded, expensive and difficult to run, and something had to give. Big business swept in, promised to fix the problem, and built more prisons. Many of these prisons are now empty, costing exorbitant amounts of money to be maintained, sometimes used for storage, but not used to house prisoners, all with tax dollars. The private prisons that are being used are often poorly maintained and understaffed.
An Arizona prison was claimed dysfunctional after 3 inmates escaped from the 3,300 bed facility, prisoners were no longer sent there, and state officials demanded improvements. The company that contracts with the state of Arizona for this prison, Management and Training Corp., stated they lost $10 million and threatened to sue, the prison contract stated 97% full, no matter what. They settled out of court, renegotiated the contract, and paid out $3 million, a lot of money for empty beds.
America has more people in prison right now than any other country, 1% of the population, and another 2% on parole, probation, or court supervision. This is not just a huge financial burden, in 2008 we spent $68.7 billion of our tax dollars to feed, clothe, shelter, and provide medical care to prisoners. Instead of concentrating on rehabilitation we are worried about keeping beds full, which seems backwards for a productive society. Criminal justice expert and senior lecturer at the University of Texas Michele Deitch says, “It’s really shortsighted public policy to do anything that ties the hands of the state. If there are these incentives to keep the private prisons full, then it is reducing the likelihood that states will adopt strategies to reduce prison costs by keeping more people out. When the beds are there, you don’t want to leave them empty.” If states continue with these contracts, we cannot afford to leave them empty.
An ACLU report in 2011 said, “private prisons are more costly, more violent, and less accountable than public prisons, and are actually a major contributor to mass incarceration.” Almost 40% of people in prison are non-violent drug offenders.
Americans are paying, through the nose, to keep people in prison, and when they are not in prison, to keep a bed for them, just in case. This is from a country that has homeless veterans and keeps cutting public school funding. When a country’s priorities no longer make sense it’s time to just say no. Show your elected officials how you feel. Write them, call them, vote for someone who actually wants to make a difference. Remember, you are paying their salary, they work for you. YOU are the boss, this country was founded by the people, for the people. That’s you, and that’s me.