State and local governments have signed contracts that obligate them to keep a certain number of people in jail (with numbers around 96% occupancy) to bolster the profits of privately run prisons, a survey indicates.
Many governments have signed contracts with corporations that contain “prison-bed occupancy guarantee” clauses, a group called In the Public Interest reported. These lockup clauses obligate the governments to keep between 80% and 100% of prison beds full even if the crime rate is falling. Once again, we see a complete disregard of constitutional rights.
If the governments don’t maintain the specified number of people behind bars, they have to pay penalties to the companies that operate private prisons. The state of Colorado paid $2 million to companies because the rate of crime and the number of convicts in the state fell by a third in the last 10 years.
People in Prison Just to Bolster Profits
The profit driven prisons put pressure on law enforcement and prosecutors to try to charge and convict individuals of more serious crimes just to fill prison beds. It also encourages authorities to send prisoners to private penitentiaries rather than state facilities even if they are cheaper. This is the reason that the number of prisoners in private verses public prisons has increased by 1,664% over the last 19 years.
Another potential problem is that it encourages authorities to send nonviolent criminals to prison instead of looking into less costly alternatives such as parole, fines, restitution, community service, or probation.
This could also put the public in danger; In the Public Interest found that the Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Ohio, a private prison, was overcrowded and ineffective. The prison actually lacked secure doors, which allowed convicts to leave the facility and prey on the local community.
The study also found that private prisons are more costly than state run prisons. The Tucson Citizen newspaper found that costs at private prisons in Arizona rise by around 13.9% a year. The prison operators sell states on their “services” by claiming they can lower costs when they cannot.
Private prison operators such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) try to lock states into long-term contracts that guarantee 90% or even 100% occupancy. These contracts are binding even if the crime rate and the number of prisoners are falling.
Basically, this report proves that the prison system has become little more than a cash cow for a few politically protected corporations. Instead of protecting the public from criminals, prisons now exist to make money for corporations and little else.