Earlier this year, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) sent a letter to prison officials in 48 states offering to purchase prisons nationwide. As a condition, the company stipulated that states would have to provide a guarantee of 90% future occupancy.
Last December, the State of Ohio, in an effort to reduce a $200 million fiscal deficit, sold the Lake Erie Correctional Institute to CCA for $72.7 million with assurance that the facility would remain at near full capacity. Despite insistence that the arrangement would save the state $3 million, annually, an independent analysis of the contractual agreement revealed that taxpayers stood to lose money over the next two decades as a result of the deal.
Even as the United States wallows in budget crises, America’s two largest private prison companies —CCA and GEO Group— made over $2.9 billion in revenue in 2010. And while politicians blaze campaign trails touting crime reduction rhetoric, many accept hefty monetary contributions toward the promotion of policies to raise incarceration rates. Incidentally, revenue for CCA decreased slightly, in 2011, after the total number of state prison inmates was reduced for the first time in statistical memory.
According to a report published by the Justice Policy Institute, titled, Gaming the System, the private prison industry actively seeks to bolster the market for their services. In the business of incarceration, increasing the market means creating more inmates. Hence, elected officials are paid to enact laws, which are highly lucrative for private prisons, but patently detrimental to society, as a whole, as more and more people become fodder for the penal system.
According to a report released by the PICO National Network in 2011, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has, on numerous occasions, acted directly on behalf of private prison companies to lobby for harsher sentences. To the mantra of “tough on crime,” policies such as the “three strikes laws,” mandatory minimums and the confetti of immigration “reform measures” were designed expressly to ensure inmate retention, not reduce crime.
Numerous studies have highlighted the distinct absence of any correlation between high incarceration rates and low crime rates. Even as the United States imprisons over eight times more people than Italy, France, the UK, Spain, and Australia combined, incidents of crime —particularly murder— remain well above comparable industrial nations.
The grisly War on Drugs is, perhaps, the pinnacle example of policy adopted to augment imprisonment of citizens.
Despite a glaring report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which condemned the drug war as utterly counterproductive, one of its principal achievements was to facilitate the incarceration of hundreds of thousands of non-violent drug offenders in the United States. The prolonged militarized campaign is conservatively estimated to have cost over $1 trillion, hundreds of thousands of lives and untold injury to the social fabric of people around the world even as prison companies pocket gains, hand over fist.
It bears emphasis that much of the consequent pro-incarceration legislation is indicative of an abject disregard for justice and fundamental fairness.
Under New York State Penal Code, for example, the sale of two ounces of cocaine earns the same penalty as setting a human on fire. In the Commonwealth of Kentucky, trafficking two grams of heroin could garner the same sentence as beating someone to death. A Louisiana court recently handed down a life sentence for the possession of marijuana. And the State of Texas is renowned for extinguishing life like candles on a birthday cake.
For government, the draconian policies effectively kill two birds with one stone. To citizens, on the other hand, it’s just plain old tyranny.
In the words of prominent social critic Noam Chomsky, “The United States is way ahead of the rest of the industrial world in imprisoning its own population. That's for population control. None of that has anything to do with crime.”
Since a predominant percentage of their revenue is derived from state subsidies, it is a virtual certainty that private prison companies will continue to lobby for pro-incarceration legislation in the United States. And since politicians have no incentive to refuse bribes, there is every reason to believe that rates of imprisonment will continue to soar in tandem with privatization.
While such an eventuality will undoubtedly benefit various associated sectors, like the legal profession and policing, it will not bode well for public morale.
Frankly, it speaks to the abysmal depth to which a capitalist will delve in the name of profit. It reverberates the cohesion between commerce and politics that has yet to receive appropriate attention as a veritable hemlock of liberty. Perhaps most importantly, it affords a disturbing insight into the fabric of our society.
Corrections Corporation of America has offered public stock since 1986. Its literature is replete with miscellaneous information —fiscal analysis, projections, barter talk— all of it quite pedestrian, really, until one considers the nature of its so-called product. It’s not as if it deals in yo-yo imports or bubble-gum manufacture. This is an entire industry solely dedicated to the shameless exploitation of misery.
CCA has been involved in a host of human rights controversies over inmate labor programs and allegations of rampant physical abuse, including the vicious beating of 24-year-old Hanni Elebed that resulted in irreparable brain damage.
In 2009, The New York Times reported widespread neglect in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Facility, in Arizona, which led to the needless death of a Cancer-stricken Ecuadorian, the suicide of a Guatemalan detainee and a brain-dead Colombian, to list a few of the documented casualties.
The wealth of evidence suggests a reality so appalling that one might sympathize with the collective refusal to acknowledge it. In the wake of a nation in crisis, it appears denial has become the de facto defense mechanism for many Americans. But as this elephant is not likely to leave the room, a few precepts are in order—
First, it should go without saying that any society that tacitly accepts the trade of people, as property, forfeits the privilege of pronouncing itself civilized.
More practically, when the tentacles of finance are allowed to infiltrate the political body of a nation, the intrinsic functions of the respective parts of that system will be inevitably displaced by the profit motive.
Thus, in the United States, nourishment has totally divorced agriculture. Learning was extracted from public education. Healthcare is not intended to heal the sick. Politics were severed from representation. And the penal system has absolutely nothing to do with justice. They are all the lowly subjects of the parasite profiteer.
The Prison Industrial Complex is the formalized detainment, subordination and trafficking of a distinct underclass in the interest of private wealth and public oppression. It implements systemic racism and classism, legislative manipulation, forced labor, physical and emotional abuse and a multitude of other civil and criminal violations in order to transform a human being into a commodity.
There is another institution, prominently featured in American history, which shares an eerily similar characterization— slavery.
Welcome to the 21st century.
If you like writing about U.S. politics and the 2012 campaign, enter "The American Pundit" competition. Allvoices is awarding four $250 prizes each month between now and November. These monthly winners earn eligibility for the $5,000 grand prize, to be awarded after the November election.