Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Injustice of For Profit Prisons

              An issue that has been brought up during the intense presidential campaigns was the subject of private prisons.  Recently Hillary Clinton has vowed to not take dirty money from the CCA and the GEO for her campaign.  CCA and GEO are massive corporations who deal with private prisons and are known to lobby for punitive and harsh policies toward criminals.  However, the subject of private prisons is under scrutiny as of late due to many problems that have arose out of these prisons.  Many of these problems arise out of the need to maximize profits, as is the goal of every private business.  There have been many injustices inside of these prisons, but there is also an injustice in policy making.  CCA and the GEO have lobbied for tougher sentences, more criminalizing laws, and they lobby against alternatives to prison sentences.  Are private prisons the best answer to overcrowding state-run prisons and for the voters who want to be even tougher on crime?
                Many states have policies that private prisons must save the state money.  Such is the case as in Arizona, however, in an article published by the New York Times “the state’s own data indicate that inmates in private prisons can cost as much as $1600 more per year, while many cost about the same as they do in state run prisons” (Oppel).  Aligned with the capitalistic mindset that America has built itself upon, some believe that privatizing certain aspects, like prisons, will ultimately save money as corporations can do things much more efficiently than the government.  In certain cases this may be the case, however, private prisons may not hold up true with that statement.  Additionally, in the same New York Times article, Oppel also points to research by the Arizona Department of Corrections, where it is seen that privatized prisons “often house relatively healthy inmates.”  What this tells us is that the private prisons cherry pick who they want to house in the private prisons because it will save them money.  They do not need to spend money for psychiatric help for these prisoners, nor do they want to spend money on those with pre-existing medical conditions.  This puts the responsibility onto the state and county prisons to spend money on providing medical assistance and psychiatric help for the prisoners.  This serves to be a disservice to the tax payers who pay their taxes for something that should be the responsibility for the state or county.  Perhaps the money could be spent for alternatives such as drug treatment programs that could ultimately help drive down crime.  Driving down recidivism through alternatives such as drug treatment programs could be effective, but the CCA and GEO spend massive amounts of money lobbying against any kind of effort to reform the current criminal justice system.
                In discussing private prisons, one must not only discuss the economic issues regarding privatized prisons, but should also discuss the injustices within the prison themselves.  In a study published by Blakely and Bumphus (2004) “private prison employees also receive 58 hours less training than their publicly employed counterparts” (as cited by Mason).  Providing less training to the employees may have implications on the safety of the overall prison.  In a letter to the governor of Mississippii, the DOJ concluded in a letter regarding the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility that their investigation “reveals systematic, egregious, and dangerous practices exacerbated by a lack of accountability and controls” (Perez).  Some of these offenses identified in the letter included being indifferent to sexual misconduct of its employees, using excessive force, and being indifferent to gang affiliations (Perez).  Although the inhabitants of the prisons are criminals, both non-violent and violent offenders, they should still be treated as human beings.  Are these criminals going to learn their lesson in an environment where violence is promoted by its own employees?  In addition to this, there are other ways in which injustice occurs simply by the systematic approach to maximizing profits.  In the case “Dockery vs EPPS,” the ACLU sues the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, on behalf of the prisoners for the injustice that occurs within the facility.  The ACLU argues that within the facility:
Prisoners are underfed and routinely held in cells that are infested with rats and have no working toilets or lights. Although designated as a facility to care for prisoners with special needs and serious psychiatric disabilities, ECMF denies prisoners even the most rudimentary mental health care services. Many prisoners have attempted to commit suicide; some have succeeded (“Dockery vs EPPS”). 
Although the case is still proceeding, these injustices point to the mathematical/economic way of reducing costs.  Many people may say that these prisoners deserve the punishment that they are getting, but do these prisoners not have rights?  These prisoners could be in prison for just simple drug offenses but they are subjected to being underfed and without working toilets or lights. 
                Going against these major corporations may be a huge undertaking as they have almost unlimited funds.  However, the general public should promote effective reform policies that may be able to undercut the funds that go to these corporations.  Promoting lessened time for non-violent criminals and effective reforms to the criminal justice system may help in bringing down the institution of private prisons.  The CCA and GEO lobby against these kinds of efforts, but legislators should listen to the voice of their constituents when making the laws.  Ultimately, it is up to the constituents of this country to voice their concerns regarding these injustices, and vote for the best candidate that will follow the voice of their voters. 
"Dockery v. Epps." American Civil Liberties Union. 15 Sept. 2015. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Mason, Cody. "Too Good to Be True." The Sentencing Project. Jan. 2012. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Oppel, Richard A. "Private Prisons Found to Offer Little in Savings." The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 May 2011. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Perez, Thomas E. "Investigation of the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility." Letter to Phil Bryant. 20 Mar. 2012. SplCenter. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

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