The private prison industry has become an increasingly lucrative business, as the companies running them seek to increase profits by cutting inmates’ food provisions while pressuring state governors to guarantee prisons remain 90 percent full at all times.
In recent years, for-profit prisons have grown in popularity. The number of private prisons has increased from five in 1998 to 100 by 2008. The biggest private prison owner in the U.S. is the Corrections Corporation of America. It has seen its profits increase by more than 500 percent in the past 20 years – and it’s not stopping there.
Last year, the Corrections Corporation of America made an offer to 48 governors to buy and operate their state-funded prisons. In an audacious bid for more profits, the CCA’s pitched governors a so-called occupancy requirement, a clause demanding the state keep those newly privatized prisons at least 90 percent full at all times, regardless of whether crime was rising or falling.
In its 2010 annual statement, the CCA said: “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by . . . leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices.”
An American Civil Liberties Union report, “Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration,” examined the effects of private prisons at both state and federal levels, and how profits were driving state decisions. The report revealed record levels of incarcerations and record profits for the two biggest private prison companies.
It reported that in 2010 the two largest private prison companies alone received nearly $3 billion in revenue, and their top executives, according to one source, each received annual compensation packages worth well over $3 million.
Incarcerating huge population groups is one way of gaining profits, and another way is to minimize costs by cutting food provisions.
In a class-action suit filed by the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of prisoners at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility in Utah, prisoners said they regularly endured inhuman conditions. One of the most common complaints was a lack of food.
An independent medical official stated that all inmates reported significant weight loss since arriving at the prison, anywhere from ten to 60 pounds.
“From my direct observation it is clear that all the men are much thinner, almost emaciated, in comparison to old snapshots I viewed in their charts or on their identity cards showing them much heavier,” the medical official said.
But that was only the tip of the iceberg – the private correctional facility owned by Management and Training Corp also faces a lawsuit alleging multiple rapes, stabbings and beatings.
The correctional facility had frequent prisoner-on-prisoner stabbings due to lack of security. The lawsuit also mentioned the conditions of the cells where rats climb over prisoners’ beds and some inmates put the rodents on makeshift leashes to sell as pets to mentally ill prisoners.
With the increasing number of prisoners and issues of overcrowding, questions have been raised about the well being of the U.S. penal system.
Today, there are approximately 2 million inmates in state, federal and private prisons throughout the country. According to California Prison Focus, “no other society in human history has imprisoned so many of its own citizens.”
The figures show that the U.S. has locked up more people than any other country — half a million more than China, which has a population five times greater. Statistics also reveal that the U.S. comprises 25 percent of the world’s prison population but only 5 percent of the world’s population. One in every four incarcerated worldwide is held in a U.S. jail.
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