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November 19, 2008

"Larger Inmate Population Is Boon to Private Prisons"

The title of this post is the title of this new article from the Wall Street Journal.  Here is how it starts:

Prison companies are preparing for a wave of new business as the economic downturn makes it increasingly difficult for federal and state government officials to build and operate their own jails.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons and several state governments have sent thousands of inmates in recent months to prisons and detention centers run by Corrections Corp. of America, Geo Group Inc. and other private operators, as a crackdown on illegal immigration, a lengthening of mandatory sentences for certain crimes and other factors have overcrowded many government facilities.

Prison-policy experts expect inmate populations in 10 states to have increased by 25% or more between 2006 and 2011, according to a report by the nonprofit Pew Charitable Trusts.

Private prisons housed 7.4% of the country's 1.59 million incarcerated adults in federal and state prisons as of the middle of 2007, up from 1.57 million in 2006, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a crime-data-gathering arm of the U.S. Department of Justice.

I suppose we can all be grateful that at least we can count on one growth industry in these tough economic times.  And, needless to say, this article provides still more support for my favorite modern sentencing mantra: "It's the prison economy, stupid."

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November 19, 2008 at 07:58 AM | Permalink


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Prof. Robert G. Lawson of the University of Kentucky College of Law has recently published a thoughtful analytical article in the "Kentucky Law Journal", "PFO Law Reform: A Crucial First Step Towards Sentencing Sanity In Kentucky", about how Ky.'s overly-broad Persistent Felony Offender statute (a kind of "three strikes" law) has made Ky.'s state prison system the fastest growing in the U.S. Prof. Lawson estimates that Kentucky's prison system will grow to 31,000 inmates by 2012, from 22,800 today, unless the state legislature changes the PFO statute. Prof. Lawson wrote the current Kentucky Criminal Code in the 1970s, including the original PFO statute, but the legislature has since modified the PFO law to cover all repeat felony offenders, whether their crimes involve violence or not, including a "two strikes" provision, which has even been applied where the prior felony was non-payment of child support! This article is available in PDF format at the web site for the University of Kentucky College of Law, and is well worth reading.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Nov 19, 2008 10:30:21 AM

This is EXACTLY why private prisons are against public policy - it creates a profit incentive for more crimes, more convictions, and longer sentences. It's no coincidence the country that allows private prisons to be an industry and thus creates a profit motive to incarceration is the country with the largest prison population in the entire world, and the country with the largest percentage of its population behind bars.

CCA's business model is premised upon depriving as many people of their freedom for the longest duration possible. Yes, bad people who are convicted of crimes should be incarcerated, but there shouldn't be a profit to be made from it. Especially with taxpayer dollars. To be sure, CCA spends a lot of money lobbying for more criminal statutes and longer sentences all around the country at both the state and federal level. Why are they allowed to do this? Oh yeah, the First Amendment allows people to advocate in favor of their interests even when they have a clear conflict of interest.

I'm all for less government and more private enterprise, but there are simply a few things that only government should be doing - it's against public policy for those things to be done by private businesses for profit. Running prisons is one such example of those things.

Posted by: BruceM | Nov 19, 2008 10:04:55 PM

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