Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is offering a heck of a deal to states across America. As the Huffington Post ("Private Prison Corporation Offers Cash In Exchange For State Prisons," February 14) reported earlier this week, in exchange for a 20 year management contract and guarantee that the prison will remain at least 90% full, CCA will buy your prison. Sounds almost too good to be true … well, that’s because it is. While the deal may be bad for states, it is actually great for those of us who oppose the for-profit prison industry. It highlights one of the fundamental flaws of the for-profit prison model: the need to maintain high numbers of incarcerated individuals regardless of the impact on our tax base and our communities.
With skyrocketing corrections budgets, lawmakers in states across the country have reassessed their criminal justice systems. Like in Liberty County, these lawmakers have found that over-incarceration is both extremely expensive and counterproductive to the goal of protecting public safety. Instead of locking people up for low level, non-violent offenses, like drug possession, lawmakers have turned to evidence-based approaches to addressing the issue. As the ACLU pointed out, the results of this reassessment for Texas have been extremely positive. “Since 2003, the Texas Legislature has passed a number of bills aimed at reducing the number of individuals incarcerated for nonviolent offenses, including drug offenses. Instead of building new and costly prisons, the legislature has increased the use of probation and provided increased funding for nonviolent offenders to attend residential and nonresidential treatment programs. And, as the numbers show, concerns about any coinciding decrease in public safety are unfounded: as Right on Crime pointed out, ‘serious property, violent, and sex crimes per 100,000 Texas residents have declined 12.8 percent since 2003.’" Oh, and these smart on crime reforms have also saved the state more than two billion dollars.
But, as the saying goes (to the for-profit prison industry) … two billion dollars saved by taxpayers is two billion dollars not earned by the for-profit prison industry, thus CCA’s need for its very own mandatory minimum. If Texas were to accept CCA’s offer, it would also have two options: (1) undermine its smart on crime reforms or (2) maintain its reforms and pay CCA to maintain empty cells. Taxpayers lose either way. We thank CCA for highlighting this fundamental flaw.
On Tuesday, I participated in an Austin protest against Wells Fargo's holdings in private prison corporations GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America. The coalition of immigrant rights groups (including Grassroots Leadership and Texans United for Families) called on Wells Fargo to divest of their holdings in the for-profit private prison industry.
Nearly half of the more than 33,000 immigration detention beds in the United States are operated by private prison corporations, and the detention system will cost taxpayers more than $1.7 billion this year. Benefiting from this practice are companies like GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America, as well a companies like Wells Fargo, that have invested in the growth of the private prison industry.
For more on the Austin protests, see the Grassroots Leadership or Texans United for Families facebook pages. And, for more photos and videos from other Wells Fargo protests around the country, check out the National Prison Divestment Campaign, coordinated by Enlace.
The Sentencing Project* recently published a new report on private prisons titled, Too Good to be True: Private Prisons in America authored by Cody Mason. The publication details the history of private prisons in America and documents the increase in their use. The major findings include:
Over the next several days, Texas Prison Bid'ness will be highlighting the top 5 private prison stories of 2011, and looking forward to the new year. The 2011 Texas legislature's attempt to increase privatization of state jails and prisons is our #5 story of the year.
Texas lawmakers met in 2011 and considered legislation that had major implications for private prisons in the state. According to the Texas Tribune, one such measure could have privatized all of Texas' state jails for low-level felony offenders. While ulitmately rescinded, the proposal was representative of bad policies that may be seen again in Texas in the future.
Nationwide there has been some success in moving state law makers to reconsider policies that have contributed to mass incarceration. This year, conservative stakeholders led by the Texas-based Right on Crime coalition, cemented a foundation of support among lawmakers in Texas and around the country to support criminal justice reforms.
But as that foundation was laid, a space was also created that strengthened opportunities for prison privatization. In Texas, lawmakers that supported privatization continue claims that private companies can manage state services better, despite evidence to the contrary. One lawmaker filed an amendment to the House budget bill (page 272) earlier this year that sought private bids for the operation of all state jails. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice would have been required to turn over jail operations to private if the result is at least 10 percent savings to the state, regardless of long-term savings or operations outcomes.
We reported earlier this year that while recent policy reforms have stabilized the prison population, lawmakers have also increased private contract capacity. The relationship between reform and privatization is something that lawmakers and advocates should pay close attention to and was definately a top story of 2011.