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Henrietta Post
  • James Jackson: The profit of imprisonment

  • Privatization of prisons became increasingly popular in the 1980s as governments began having to address the rising costs of maintaining a growing prison population and as privatization in general became a favorite policy of the Reagan administration.

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  • America has a problem on its hands. 
    For the past couple of decades, felony convictions and imprisonment have become our national pastime. According to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union, the “United States imprisons more people –– both per capita and in absolute terms –– than any other nation in the world, including Russia, China and Iran.” 
    As a significant portion of the American population increasingly becomes part of a “criminal” class, our entrepreneurial ingenuity has created a way to make money and profit from the criminalization of massive numbers of its citizens. The use of convictions and fines as a way to raise revenue by governments is a moral dilemma of it’s own accord. Even thornier, however, is the rise in corporations that take over our prisons as a for-profit venture.
    Privatization of prisons became increasingly popular in the 1980s as governments began having to address the rising costs of maintaining a growing prison population and as privatization in general became a favorite policy of the Reagan administration. State and federal governments increasingly looked to a private solution to help offset the costs of housing and maintaining the rising number of convicted persons. 
    Corporations formed and aggressively lobbied to help meet the demands of the state. These were not benevolent, human rights oriented organizations.  These were companies whose entire purpose was to garner profits from the running of prisons. As with any business, money can only be made if there is a viable product and in this case, the product is a prisoner. 
    In order to maintain a profitable edge, it is imperative for prisons to have prisoners. In 2010, Corrections Corporation of America submitted their annual report to the SEC and stated, “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by…leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices…” In other words, these corporations depend solely on maintaining and growing the U.S. conviction rate. As with any corporations, these entities are responsible to shareholders, and so they actively seek a healthy conviction rate to report a profit to them.
    Privatization of any or all government responsibilities has become an established political philosophy for a number of Americans. While some federal and state governments are adherents to this philosophy, its popularity waxes and wanes as certain political groups gain or lose influence. 
    This political transitioning aside, governments are increasing under pressure to address the costs of providing for their citizens in an era of decreasing revenue and budgets. The temptation to lease out responsibilities to a private company to reduce costs is a great one and has increased with the recent recession. 
    According to a report on privatizationofprisons.com, “Over 32 states and Puerto Rico have formed contracts with corrections corporations.” Salon.com reported, “CCA sent letters to 48 states in February offering to purchase state prisons outright in exchange for a 20-year management contract and the assurance the prison would remain at least 90 percent full.” 
    Page 2 of 2 - This proposal would certainly save the sates considerable costs, but would also beholden them to ensuring they could provide the number of prisoners needed to maintain that capacity. The state would be in the business of producing criminals so the corporation could make a profit. It is a common sense assumption to say that these corporations would not be interested in the reform or rehabilitation of an individual so that they might become a productive member of society. A reformed person would be a profit loss and so an undesirable outcome for a corporation that, by its very
    As Americans, we have to take a close look at our justice system and it needs to happen soon. We have already traveled down a sad and dangerous road by criminalizing more and more of our citizens, mostly for non-violent offenses. Imprisoning a population and creating a subclass of citizens is one of the telltale signs of the beginning stages of Fascism. 
    Turning parts of our justice system over to entities that thrive and profit from the criminalization and imprisonment of an entire class of people leads us down roads even darker. We are a strong and proud people.  In the past, we have provided the greatest hope for people around the world to live their lives in peace and freedom. We don’t want our future to hold that freedom encased in bars … made with dollar signs.
    James Jackson can be reached at schoolnews@thesuntimes.com.

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