Stop helping corporations profit from crime

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Thirty years ago, governments began employing private prisons, hoping to accommodate a rapidly growing inmate population while at the same time saving tax-payer money. Through “free-market competition,” private prison corporations promised a higher quality of service at a lower cost. Decades later, however, this has been proven simply not to be true. These prisons have in fact been providing inadequate services at no savings, or in some cases at a higher cost, and ultimately negatively affecting criminal justice policy, all at the expense of tax-payers and the inmates themselves. (1)

If the goal of these prisons is to maximize profit, the inmates become “product.” The prisons become motivated to keep as many people in prison as they can for as long as possible. The Corrections Corporation of America is one of the oldest and largest private prison companies. The ACLU has noted that in the CCA's 2010 Annual Report, the company admits that “the demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by....leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices.” (2) Translation: “We are not interested in rehabilitation or alternative solutions to incarceration. Just the bottom line.”

The prisons had promised that through the nature of a free-market system, they would be able to provide superior services at much lower costs than state-run facilities. The truth is that 90% of the private prison market share is consolidated in just 4 companies. This has led to no real competition and a lack of interest in improving services. (3)

Even the Department of Justice in 2001 conceded that the promises in savings have simply not materialized. In a report by the Office of Justice Programs, they revealed that “even if 10 percent of a state's prison system becomes privatized and...each private prison produced a 10-percent savings...the overall impact on a state prison budget would be only 1 percent.” They went on to admit that it is also highly unlikely they would ever even reach a 10 percent market share due to the increase in bad publicity and mismanagement of the private facilities. (4)

These failures aside, there are other obvious issues to consider here, the most obvious being the alarming conflicts of interest created in this system. When a prison is run on a for-profit business plan, certain civil and human rights violations are inevitable. People become products, and their lives traded for a bigger bottom line. Cost-cutting leads to inferior food, poorer conditions, substandard health care and hygiene, and fewer and less trained staffing. In many cases, inmates get only two showers per week and prison personnel are paid a third of their state-employed counterparts. Private prison corporations have been exploiting their prisoners for profit in other ways as well. They “rent” them out as cheap labor for big corporations such as Starbucks and McDonald's for pennies on the dollar – sometimes for less than a dollar an hour.

Such problems as underpaid and under-trained personnel, substandard care and food, the reduced probability of early release, and the harsher and more dangerous conditions for a minimum- or medium-security inmate compared with maximum-security state prisoners, can be severely detrimental to the mental health and stability of private inmates and can lead to “volatile environments that are more prone to abuse, violence, injury, and death.” (5)

Private prisons are allowed to incorporate as real estate to avoid taxation. They exploit inmates by outsourcing them as cheap labor. They influence policies for stricter sentencing and parole for non-violent offenders. They encourage high recidivism rates and enable corruption. There is no one simple solution to these problems but one thing is becoming clear – both progressives and conservatives agree that non-violent and drug offenders are better dealt with through alternative methods, rather than incarceration.

Conservatives have argued that prison is in effect a “graduate school for criminals” and not the best way to deal with non-career, non-violent, first-time offenders. They agree that incarceration is expensive – more so than probation or treatment programs – and if the private model's aim is to incarcerate people as long as possible and to maintain a high recidivism rate, clearly the state is paying more in “lifetime” costs per prisoner. Conservatives have also noted that prison time, especially for the type of offender noted above, can destroy families and it creates a climate of distrust toward law enforcement among those living in high-risk communities. (6)

Both sides agree: the private prison industry has failed in its promises, has resulted in a higher rate of violence in prisons, higher recidivism, poor health care, poor diet, poor hygiene among inmates, fewer and less qualified staff, and are just as costly, if not more, than state-run facilities.

With public attitudes shifting toward treatment programs and not jail time for certain types of crime, including drug offenses, the solution to this problem lies in a bi-partisan reevaluation of sentencing guidelines, doing away with mandatory minimums for non-violent crimes, and developing better alternatives such as rehabilitation/treatment programs and probation.

That said, one thing is clear: the government must stop using private prisons in a futile attempt to deal with a broken system. Real solutions must be found to combat the growing prison population, not this quick fix that only creates more problems than it solves.

That's why we urge you to sign this petition demanding an end to diverting your tax dollars to for-profit prisons' investors. Please tell Department of Justice, Bureau of Prisons, and states' Departments of Corrections to promote more humane conditions for mentally ill inmates.


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  1. Mason, Cody, The Sentencing Project, Washington, DC, “International Growth Trends in Prison Privatization,” August 2013, p. 1. Retrieved from
  2. American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved from
  3. Culp, Richard, PhD,, “The Failed Promise of Prison Privatization,” October 15, 2011.
  4. Austin, James, PhD, and Garry Coventry, PhD, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance, “Emerging Issues on Privatized Prisons, February, 2001, p. 59.
  5. The Sentencing Project, Washington, DC, “International Growth Trends in Prison Privatization,” Mason, Cody. August 2013, p. 10. Retrieved from
  6. Reddy, Vikrant P. and Marc A. Levin, The American Conservative, “The Conservative Case Against More Prisons.” Retrieved from

Other Sources


Sanders, Katie, PolitiFact Florida, “Kathleen Ford says private prisons use third-grade data to plan for prison beds.”, “Civil Rights Organization Demands End to Florida For-Profit Youth Prisons,” June 9, 2014.

Grassroots Leadership, “The Dirty Thirty: Nothing to Celebrate About 30 Years of Corrections Corporation of America.” editorial, “Hooked on Private Prisons, State Can't Afford This Bad Habit,” July 20, 2010.

Menendez, Martha Elena, Human Rights Advocates, “Prison Privatization and Prison Labor: The Human Rights Implications,” Berkeley, CA.

McDonald, Douglas, PhD and Carl Patter, Jr., Esq., National Institute of Justice, “Governments' Management of Private Prisons,” September 15, 2003.