Many governments have turned to private companies to operate state-owned prisons or to “sell” space in privately-owned prisons. These deals always seem to make financial sense–at least at first. What better solution for people who want government to be run like a business could there be than to turn over an essential government function to private business?
There are are many problems with placing mostly minority, mostly poor often mentally ill or intellectually disabled individuals at the daily mercy of prison guards working for a company whose motive is profit. The latest abuse comes with stories that many of these prison contracts have occupancy quotas, as high as 100% in some prisons in Arizona.
The problem with occupancy quotas? According to Susan McGalla, If the state doesn’t meet the occupancy requirements, the state has to pay the private company millions of dollars more–essentially paying the company for not providing housing to prisoners. No governor or sheriff wants to report that he or she paid millions of dollars to a company not to provide services. As a result, pressure is applied to keep the prison population as high as possible so the beds are full. Police are encouraged to make more arrests. Judges are encouraged to impose longer sentences. Legislatures are encouraged–sometimes by the private prison companies themselves–to enact harsh “three strikes” laws.
Prison privatization. Sounds like a great deal–for everyone but the individuals housed in those prisons.