The Privatization of America’s Prison System:
An Unjust form of Punishment in regards to Justice
One of the key concepts that has been taught since the beginning of this course, was that justice is a process. “Justice should be conceptualized as a process whose purpose is to reconstitute the equilibrium of human dignity and not simply as an end result.” For justice to truly be obtained each step in it that process must be successfully executed. One of the steps in that process, that seems to not be carried out completely or to its fullest potential, is punishment. Punishment is necessary for justice, because if executed properly, (which one could relate to proportionality) eliminates attacks of vengeance, but also because it deters crimes. Punishment doesn’t only affect the perpetrator(s). Punishment when it is successfully implemented by being proportionate to the crime(s) committed, is key in restorative justice. Punishment shouldn’t only deter crime but also restore the dignity of the victim by providing them with closure, which presents an opportunity for reconciliation and forgiveness. America’s prison system, as a whole, in my opinion is an injustice. I believe that the value and purpose of our prison system over time has been distorted and forgotten. In my opinion, our prison system in this day in age, does not successfully deter crime nor does it equally re-establish human dignity. This can be attributed to two reasons: the first being, incarceration rates which have been affected by “one size fits all” sentencing, giving lead way to the privatization of prisons and the second being a lack of re-entry resources for ex-convicts.
A for profit private prison is a facility managed by a for profit organization through a public-private partnership with a government contract (on the federal and state level). For profit private prisons thrive off of growing incarceration rates, which state governments can’t afford to maintain. Thus benefiting off of our justice system’s sentencing policies and lack of finding alternative punishments other than incarceration. Policies such as, “Mandatory sentencing, three strikes laws, and ‚truth-in-sentencing laws”, limit parole eligibility and keep people in prison longer. Even policies like the “war on drugs” have sent more people; especially people convicted of drug offenses, to prison. I’m not trying to subjectify these policies as wrong in intent but rather criticizing to what means in which they were carried out. Those policies were made because of problems in our society i.e. drug trafficking, gang violence, but to use incarceration as a “one size fits all” solution to those problems is unjust and negates proportionality. Such sentencing policies have been a primary contributor to the number of people in prison giving lead way to for profit private prisons to take advantage of the prison system and further diminish the overall lesson(s) that being incarcerated is supposed to teach the perpetrator.
Private prisons generally charge a daily rate per person incarcerated to cover investment, operating costs, and turn a profit. The Justice Policy Institute’s June 2011 report, Gaming the System: How the Political Strategies of Private Prison Companies Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies, details the success of the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and The GEO Group; the most successful and prominent companies operating, for profit private prisons. As of 2010, CCA operated 66 correctional and detention facilities, had contracts in 19 states, as well as, D.C., and had record revenue of $1.67 billion. Majority of that money, $838.5 million came from state contracts, while 13% ($214 million), came from the state of California alone. As of 2010, GEO operates 118 facilities world wide, contracts with 13 states, the Federal Bureau of Prison, the U.S. Marshals Service, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In 2010, 66 % ($842 million) of GEO’s $1.27 billion in revenue was from U.S. corrections contracts. Of the $842 million in revenue, 47% came from corrections contracts with 11 states. The primary injustice with privatizing prisons is that they prostitute crime. Morally speaking a society with low crime rates is the ultimate goal, but not for for-profit private prisons. The contracts between themselves and state governments often include a Guaranteed Occupancy Clause; an agreement that private prisons are guaranteed a certain occupancy rate, and if it is not met than the state will impose a low crime tax to make up the loss profit. The state of Colorado has had to collect $2 million dollars in low crime tax dollars. Approximately 65% of private prison contracts include occupancy rate guarantees, and the range of occupancy rates range from 80%-100%, with 90% being the most frequent guaranteed occupancy rate. This behavior may actually cause a civil uproar by making victims and other citizen feel like the justice system is corrupt if they were made to pay a “low crime” tax, that in its self, to them would be a punishment which they do not deserve, which could lead them into a state of retribution. For-profit private prisons discredit a lot of the core elements of the process of establishing justice.
The main injustice with our prison system is the threat that, for-profit private prisons pose on the state of justice. The privatizing of prisons is diminishing the effectiveness of incarceration as a punishment and its ability to deter crime and equally re-establish human dignity. But the thing fueling the need for these for-profit private prisons is our steadily growing incarceration rate. Possible solutions to lowering the incarceration rate include, implementing better re-entry programs to convicts, with startup dates beginning early enough for them to really grasp the material, in order to implement it in real life. Majority of these programs are made available to inmates during the last two months of their sentence. By implementing better re-entry programs and techniques, there is a chance that the continuous population of people, who intentionally return to prison because they can’t assimilate into society, will be eradicated. Another solution would be for state governments to really go back and reconsider or redefine what crimes are punishable with incarceration, as well as, finding alternative solutions like house arrest. For instance, what Maryland did by decriminalizing certain amounts of marijuana will definitely help lower the incarceration rate in our state. In regards to possession of marijuana, our state government has done well at coming up with punishments or penalties that are in place before incarceration would be an option. To help restore our prison system, my peers along with myself should go out and vote for laws that may affect incarceration rates, or even volunteer in a re-entry program at a prison. Also, just practice the golden rule and don’t judge a book by its cover, everyone deserves a second chance…and some people may need a third or fourth, but don’t write someone off just because they were convicted of a misdemeanor of felony. Finally the most important thing we can do, is make sure we don’t commit any crimes and continue the trend of the current incarceration rate. Our generation can change the status que about "reckless youth". We need to educate ourselves of the laws that are in place and that are on the desks of our legislators and politicians. We must understand the full impact of how voting laws, policies, and procedures into place may affect our society in the long run. Changing the ways we act and respect others can be very auspicious to obtaining justice. When voting we shouldn't think about ourselves in the individual state but instead how those said laws may affect other individuals making up our society. For example, while I do not condone substance abuse, I am in favor of decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, because I believe it will lower incarceration rates for something that I consider a new socially accepted norm amongst society and a petty crime.
Link to read, The Growth of INCARCERATION in the United States, a book consisting of research compiled by the National Research Council.
“Gaming the System: How the Political Strategies of Private Prison Companies Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies.” Justice Policy Institute (2011): n. pag. Justice Policy Institute. June 2011. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.
Times-Picayune, Cindy Chang The. "Prison Re-entry Programs Help Inmates Leave the Criminal Mindset Behind, but Few Have Access to the Classes." Nola.com. The Time Picayune, 19 May 2012. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.
"Privatization Scan April 07, 2014." In the Public Interest. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.
"Private Prisons: The Injustice League - Online Paralegal Programs." Online Paralegal Programs. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.
Short, April M. "6 Shocking Revelations about How Private Prisons Make Money." Saloncom RSS. N.p., 23 Sept. 2013. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.
Zurcher, Anthony. "Report: US Prison Rates an 'injustice'" BBC News. Echo Chambers, 2 May 2014. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.