America’s prisons are ineffective and extremely overcrowded. About 1 in 100 American adults are locked away as the incarceration rate has quadrupled since the 1970’s. 1
“The War on Drugs”, is one of the largest factors behind the explosion of America’s prison population. This, in addition to widely adopted minimum sentencing laws have expanded the definition of criminal, leading to harsh sentences for an abundant amount of otherwise non-violent, small-time drug offenders. America’s bloated prison population can also be attributed to high recidivism rates.3
Many critics have referred to prison as “entering a school for crime” where prisoners survive and are even rewarded for toughness and aggressive behavior. I believe the problem has much more to do with the lack of rehabilitation, education and employment options. If the workforce denies them, they turn back to crime just to survive.5
Also adding weight to the problem is the fact that many politicians find career success by being perceived as “tough,” armed with prison as a weapon, resulting in courts and law enforcement officials becoming more aggressive in apprehending criminals.6
Considering the amount of capital required to prosecute and house offenders—$50,000 per inmate per year in California, it is no mystery as to why many local, state and federal agencies have, in order to ease financial burdens, contracted for-profit businesses to build and manage new prisons (George W. Bush’s fiscal year 2003 budget proposed $19.2 billion to fight drugs alone).7
Proponents of privatization argue that private prisons, through competition, innovative design and superior management can promise substantial savings8
Private facilities often save money by reducing or eliminating employee pension and wage obligations. 9 By 2008, there were 126,249 prisoners placed in private facilities, and is now a $22.7 billion industry. 11
Private prisons, however, with lax enforcement of regulations in combination with the profit motive, seem to be susceptible to corruption and security breaks. Though some proponents have given praise for cost savings and rehabilitation programs,13 numerous incidents have occurred at private prisons within a short time of their opening including abusive guards stripping prisoners naked on the ground and being prodded with stun guns. Another incident involved two judges in Pennsylvania sentencing thousands of children to jail in return for kickbacks (totaling $2.6 million) from a prison management company.15 “They don’t have to show proof of financial responsibility, they don’t have to comply with Arizona prison construction standards, they don’t have to report disruptions. . .and both the training and staffing is up to the private operator,” Arizona Attorney General Goddard says. “There were a couple of private prisons that went on lockdown and refused to allow the Department of Corrections to come in.”16
In Addition to low employee wages, cut pensions, security issues and inhumane treatment of prisoners, a study by the Department of Justice concluded that promises by private companies to achieve a 20 percent reduction in costs had “simply not materialized” and that in fact average savings were only about 1 percent.
The fact that one of the fastest growing industries in “The Land of the Free” profits directly from the disenfranchised showcases the reality of a very sick nation, where the prosecution of some creates another’s success. With $60 billion a year spent on the criminal justice system and over 2 million Americans behind bars, proof exists that either America is home to some of the most disturbed and dangerous criminals in the world, or that there is an illness festering within our beloved political system and what it seems to call criminal justice.