Friday, February 24, 2012

Private Prisons: mo' money, mo' problems?

Yesterday I attended a Congressional briefing on Private Prisons entitled, “Banking and Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration” hosted by ACLU.  It was my first time in the House Office Buildings, and I obviously got lost going in and coming out.  The briefing was interesting, if rather one-sided. The panelists included the Director of Civil and Human Rights, General Board of Church and Society, The United Methodist Church; A Labor Economist from the Union AFSCME; an attorney from the ACLU National Prison Project; and the director of the Justice Policy Institute. Each panelist said that private prisons were wrong, from their unique perspective, ranging from one of faith, one of labor, one of civil/human rights and one of justice. The important information I gathered from the event, is that it is arguably immoral for a for-profit institution to be in charge of incarcerating people, they have no incentive to decrease mass incarceration or to offer better care of inmates. Additionally, private prisons have higher turnover rates, with prison staff getting paid less than federal prison employees. This high turnover rate leads to less experienced guards, understaffed prisons with a  lower quality workface, which in turn increases likelihood of escapes and violence (both between inmates and between inmates and guards).  Additionally (and what is most relevant to Human Rights First), private prisons fail to maintain decent and humane standards for inmates,thus violating inmates and immigration detainees basic human rights. Incentives matter, as those econ-minded individuals can attest, and private prisons incentives are to maximize profit, and they do so by cutting all possible corners--including human rights standards.  Furthermore, the human rights abuses that occur in private prisons are exacerbated by the lack of accountability and government oversight in private prisons.  Unlike government run prisons, which FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) applies, private prisons do not have to, nor do they, share specifics or information of how they run their facilities. Additionally, there is minimal to no government oversight of private prisons, increasing the issue of accountability. Proponents of private prisons argue that they cut costs, however the evidence supporting that is mixed at best, with some studies concluding the opposite—that private prisons are more costly. As the Executive Director of the Justice Policy Institute concluded with, “no one should profit more, when more people are in prison"

Private prisons versus government run prisons could be an interesting topic for a future debate. 


TJE said...

Just sayin:

B. De Graff said...

I think it would be very interesting as well. The less government involvement the better. Wasteful government spending is never good, if you can turn something into the private sector, it will be economically beneficial. Wasting money building and maintaining prisons is not a good thing..
An example is a prison that was built in the last decade by the Spanish government in Catalunya, just outside of Barcelona. They spent 5 million dollars building the structure to create jobs and then realized when they finished that they could bnot afford to put prisoners in the prison. Now the government spends 1.5 million euros a year to maintain the prison without any prisoners.. Talk about wasting tax payers' money.. No wonder Spain and the rest of Europe are in such trouble. Does this sound familiar? If we continue on the track that we are in this country will be facing a similar crisis..

but anyway, if this prison was funded privately then it would be a bummer they can't aafford to put prisoners in the building, but it certainly would not be wasting tax dollars/.. Think about it!

Amy S. said...

"Without going down a sociological path and tackling the issue of whether the current system is working or not"

I take serious issue with this. Maybe from an economic standpoint (but I guarantee I can find an article saying that private prisons don't numerically and fiscally make as much sense as this one says)...but prisons are housing human beings, members of our population. I just think that the law, and punishing people for breaking the law falls under the governments jurisdiction, not private sectors. I am obviously giving the moral, ethical and theoretical argument the upper hand, but I just don't think it is right for companies to gain money by locking people up, without any government or public accountability. Furthermore, if private prison companies are less costly, its because they are cutting costs that are inexcusable (re: inmate medical care, safety, etc).

There are probably ways to solve the problem without eliminating every private prison that might be more politically feasible (such as making sure FOIA applies to private prisons). I don't necessarily think it is reasonable to expect private prisons to go away, but I do think something has to change.