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A recent ThinkProgress article documented the myriad failures of the first for-profit prison in the country to meet state standards. Mentioned in passing was Corrections Corporation of America's recent offer to outright buy state prisons, rather than merely take contracts to (mis)manage them, dangling short-term infusions of money in front of cash-strapped state legislatures.

They come with a catch, however -- guaranteed prison 'occupancy' rates of at least 90% for decades, insuring CCA's continued profitability.

But what happens if the government, having taken on such contracts with the CCA, puts pressure on its justice system to produce the requisite numbers of inmates for the prisons? What happens when the focus of the justice system changes from justice to manufacturing a human product that for-profit prisons demand to exploit?

It's bad enough that the ThinkProgress article cited so many failures to live up to state prison standards -- prison cells overcrowded with inmates sleeping on the floor, lack of required personal space, of cleaning, hygiene, medical care, lack of plans to release inmates in an emergency, in case of a fire. You'd think they would have a plan for something like that; roasting a few hundred inmates would really cut into their profit margin! And yet, it just gets worse.

Despite the many abuses discovered at private prisons all over the country, CCA and other industry giants have greatly benefited from cash-strapped states’ attempts to save money. However, recent studies show that private prisons actually cost more than state-owned ones. Undeterred, CCA has started offering states millions to buy state facilities like the Ohio prison. Ohio sold the prison to CCA last year to help balance the state’s 2012-2013 budget, and CCA recently offered to buy another one in exchange for the state’s guarantee of 90% occupancy for 20 or 30 years.
That last link interested me. Private prison industry panics? About what?
Shrinking state budgets have forced policymakers to consider alternatives to incarceration for convicted criminals, which in turn has forced private prison operators to try a risky new strategy to stay in business.
It would take your basic budgetary and economic crisis for states to finally start to re-think this tough on crime, lock 'em up and throw away the key mentality that has landed so many of our people in prison, that our country is rated at the highest incarceration rate in the world.
The incarceration rate in the United States of America is the highest in the world. As of 2009, the incarceration rate was 743 per 100,000 of national population (0.743%).[2] In comparison, Russia had the second highest, at 577 per 100,000, Canada was 123rd in the world as 117 per 100,000, and China had 120 per 100,000.[2] While Americans only represent about 5 percent of the world's population, nearly one-quarter of the entire world's inmates have been incarcerated in the United States in recent years.[3] Imprisonment of America's 2.3 million prisoners, costing $24,000 yearly, and $5.1 billion in new prison construction, consumes $60 billion in budget expenditures.
We beat everyone? We beat Russia? China? You can't tell me we lock up more folks than Red China. What happened to our much-vaunted freedom?
The incarceration rate of the People's Republic of China varies depending on sources and measures. According to the ICPS, the rate for only sentenced prisoners is 120 per 100,000 (as of 2009) and the rate for prisoners including those in administrative detention and pre-trial detainees is 186 per 100,000 (as of 2009).[2] Su Jiang assessed the incarceration rate for all forms of imprisonment in China at 218 prisoners per 100,000 population.[18] The total number of prisoners held, 1.6 million, is second to that of the United States despite its population being over four times larger.[19] Harry Wu, a U.S.-based human rights activist and ex-Chinese labor camp prisoner, estimates that "in the last 60 years, more than 40–50 million people" were in Chinese labor camps.[20]
Use the worst possible estimate and the U.S. still incarcerates three times as many people per 100,000. Even based on overall prison population we still imprison more people than China.

So with a $60 billion prison industry in this country, I guess I understand now why a move to find alternatives to incarceration would cause a panic among private prison corporations. And you know it's bad when the legislature in Louisiana won't play along with CCA and governor Bobby Jindal.

Ohio already has sold one of its largest prisons to CCA. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal wanted last year to sell three of his state’s prisons to the company, but the legislature refused to go along.

Critics of the plan warn that if states commit to CCA’s deal, they could find themselves with little bargaining power down the road once it comes time to negotiate new contracts. And, if the crime rate continues dropping, will police, prosecutors and judges feel compelled to supply human “product” for the prisons anyway?

The aim of the justice system is right there, in its name. Justice. Not vengeance, not cruelty, not unbridled and callous neglect as is seen in Ohio, certainly not profit. I wonder, how the justice system can continue to call itself such if it is subverted to the cause of manufacturing inmates for the profit of corporations like the CCA. What happens when our country's success in reducing crime rates runs counter to the profit motive of CCA? Will government policy shift away from reducing crime?

Try calling that justice. Try.

Originally posted to The Tytalan Way on Wed Oct 10, 2012 at 10:07 AM PDT.

Also republished by American Legislative Transparency Project, DKos Cannabis Law and Drug War Reform, and Community Spotlight.

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