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June 24, 2011

"Gaming the System: How the Political Strategies of Private Prison Companies Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies"

Gaming_the_system-cover-full The title of this post is the title of a new report (available here) from the folks at The Justice Policy Institute. This press release provides background on the report:

Over the past 15 years, the number of people held in all prisons in the United States has increased by 49.6 percent, while private prison populations have increased by 353.7 percent, according to recent federal statistics.  Meanwhile, in 2010 alone, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group, the two largest private prison companies, had combined revenues of $2.9 billion.  According to a report released [this week] by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI), not only have private prison companies benefitted from this increased incarceration, but they have helped fuel it.

Gaming the System: How the Political Strategies of Private Prison Companies Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies, examines how private prison companies are able to wield influence over legislators and criminal justice policy, ultimately resulting in harsher criminal justice policies and the incarceration of more people.  The report notes a “triangle of influence” built on campaign contributions, lobbying and relationships with current and former elected and appointed officials.  Through this strategy, private prison companies have gained access to local, state, and federal policymakers and have back-channel influence to pass legislation that puts more people behind bars, adds to private prison populations and generates tremendous profits at U.S. taxpayers’ expense.

“For-profit companies exercise their political influence to protect their market share, which in the case of corporations like GEO Group and CCA primarily means the number of people locked up behind bars,” said Tracy Velázquez, executive director of JPI.  “We need to take a hard look at what the cost of this influence is, both to taxpayers and to the community as a whole, in terms of the policies being lobbied for and the outcomes for people put in private prisons.  That their lobbying and political contributions is funded by taxpayers, through their profits on government contracts, makes it all the more important that people understand the role of private prisons in our political system.”

Paul Ashton, principle author of Gaming the System, noted, “This report is built on concrete examples of the political strategies of private prison companies. From noting campaign donations, $835,514 to federal candidates and $6,092,331 to state-level candidates since 2000, to the proposed plan from Ohio Governor John Kasich to privatize five Ohio prisons followed by the appointment of a former CCA employee to run the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, Gaming the System shows that private prison companies’ interests lie in promoting their business through maintaining political relationships rather than saving taxpayer dollars and effectively ensuring public safety.”...

If states and the federal government are interested in providing cost-effective, proven public safety strategies, investments in private prison companies will not help achieve that goal.  Gaming the System includes a number of recommendations for criminal justice policies that are cost-effective and will improve public safety:

  • States and the federal government should look for real solutions to the problem of growing jail and prison populations.  A number of states are already utilizing innovative strategies for reducing the number of people behind bars in their state. Reducing the number of people entering the justice system, and the amount of time that they spend there, can lower prison populations, making private, for-profit prisons unnecessary, and improving public safety and the lives of individuals.
  • Invest in front-end treatment and services in the community, whether private or public.  Research shows that education, employment, drug treatment, health care, and the availability of affordable housing coincide with better outcomes for all people, whether involved in the criminal justice system or not.  Jurisdictions that spend more money on these services are likely to experience lower crime rates and lower incarceration rates.  An increase in spending on education, employment and other services not only would improve public safety, but also would enhance and enrich communities and individual life outcomes.
  • Additional research is needed to effectively evaluate the cost and recidivism reduction claims of the private prison industry.  With conflicting research on both the cost savings and recidivism reduction of private prisons, additional research is needed to determine the accuracy of such claims.  Moreover, a clearer dialogue surrounding the difficulties of comparative research between private and public facilities would also be beneficial in providing a better understanding of the implications of prison privatization.

June 24, 2011 at 09:51 AM | Permalink


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To borrow a concept from Eisenhower: "Beware of the Corrections-Industrial Complex."

Posted by: k | Jun 24, 2011 11:06:53 AM

Privatizing different sectors of government is a popular trend, and the 'justice' system is no different. CCA and the GEO Group take incarceration and turn a profit from it. Trouble is, these companies are making their profits off of the destroyed lives of its revenue source.

The purported interest of justice in American society is the impartial and objective meting out of punishment, rehabilitation, etc. to preserve the order and safety of the society as a whole. However, when privatizing even a portion of this system, objectivity and impartiality are lost. We are seeing this here.

When a company makes money based on the amount of bodies it houses in its mass-incarceration warehouses, there are only two ways to increase revenue: decrease overhead and increase operating capacity. Either way, the unfortunate people subject to private incarceration companies lose. Less money spent on the lives and rehabilitation makes profits increase. More bodies for their beds increase revenue. Because of this, justice matters little to companies like this and comes in at a distant third behind market share and bodies in beds.

The interest of justice is not served by privatizing incarceration, and the violation of civil rights is an inevitable result of decreasing overhead. The larger these companies get, the more entrenched into the legislation of 'justice' they get, and the more people have their lives ruined by laws, overzealous prosecutors, and ludicrously long sentences because each of these things can make the black ledger numbers larger.

Posted by: Eric Matthews | Jun 24, 2011 1:19:35 PM

These contracts are a tactic by the states to evade public employee union obstructionism and plunder of the treasury. If the union could be less rapacious and merciless to the taxpayer, there would be no need for the privatizaton of any government function.

Slow moving. Nasty attitudes. No accountability. No one can be fired. Low productivity. Public employees are horrible. Once they leave government, many are superb performers. It is in the nature of government, not of the people employed by it.

It is ironic that many government agencies are led by Ivy indoctrinated law grads. These underwent treason indoctrination camp in the Ivy league law schools. If they can be excluded from all policy and responsible positions, government may have a chance to improve its performance. These overly entitled mental cripples really believe, government is a tool to enrich and empower the Ivy indoctrinated lawyer. No. It is to protect and serve the public. None knows that. Job One and Job Last.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 25, 2011 6:56:00 AM

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