The Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private operator of prisons in the US, is appealing to 48 states across the country with an offer to buy out their detention facilities. Their work is proving so lucrative, they can see the potential of taking control of all the prisons across America. The Chief Corrections Officer, Harley G. Lappin, is keen to explain to state officials across the country the benefits of being bought out, stressing the partnership involved, and the savings to be had.
It seems like a good idea on the face of it: farming out prisoners to the private sector which makes it cheaper for states to cope with their prisoner intake. But when does such a laudable aim become a conflict of interest for a business whose main objective is making a profit from the people in their charge?
About a year ago a corrupt judge and other officials were charged with colluding to sentencing people unnecessarily, especially first time offenders, so that the private jailers could achieve their inmate targets to make their profits. Another aspect is the work that prisoners do. Human rights organizations are condemning 'a new form of inhumane exploitation in the United States', where, they say, "a prison population of up to 2 million - mostly Black and Hispanic - are working for various industries for a pittance. For the tycoons who have invested in the prison industry, it has been like finding a pot of gold. They don't have to worry about strikes or paying unemployment insurance, vacations or comp time. All of their workers are full-time, and never arrive late or are absent because of family problems; moreover, if they don't like the pay of 25 cents an hour and refuse to work, they are locked up in isolation."
A study by the Progressive Labor Party concludes: "The private contracting of prisoners for work fosters incentives to lock people up. Prisons depend on this income. Corporate stockholders who make money off prisoners' work lobby for longer sentences, in order to expand their workforce. The system feeds itself." The report accuses the prison industry of being "an imitation of Nazi Germany with respect to forced slave labor and concentration camps".
Strong words, indeed. But how can one ever be certain that a felon or offender is getting fair treatment, if the presence of prisoners fuel the bank balance of the prison owners? Anywhere there is profit being made the focus will be on money, not the service or the fairness.
Should a prison system be privatised in this way? After all, current statistics show that crimes are going down, but the prison population is actually going up! How can that be? It seems that prisoners are getting longer sentences to boost the profits of the prisons.
We do have a form of privatised system in the UK for prisoners, but it does not depend on numbers. It is run like hospitals where the quality of the administration is more important than the actual number of inmates involved. The emphasis is on care and security.
So what do you think? Should the prison service be privatised in this way where sentencing could be open to abuse?