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.