Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money from Mass Incarceration

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By their very nature, prisons are something that is kept out of sight. The community doesn’t want to notice them and those housed within prisons have been temporarily (although in many cases the effects of incarceration remain long after release) removed from society. This out-of-sight nature makes it difficult to find out information about conditions in prisons. Beyond government statistics and agencies, it can be difficult to find out what happens inside prison walls.

This lack of transparency has accelerated in recent years as the number of privately run prisons–often with even more limited forms of disclosure–has risen. Private prisons have appeared in response to mass incarceration in the United States, with over two million people in prison. Private companies have realized that there is a fortune to be made in housing prisoners.

However, it isn’t just through the construction of private prisons that companies are making money from mass incarceration. Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money from Mass Incarceration looks at the other ways in which corporations are profiting from the prison boom. The book is the third in a series that look at unprecedented increase of mass incarceration since the 1980s. The others include Prison Nation: The Warehousing of America’s Poor and The Celling of America: An Inside Look at the US Prison Industry.

Prison Profiteers features eighteen essays divided into three sections–“The Political Economy of Prisons,” “The Private Prison Industry,” and “Making Out Like Bandits.” The essays expose a host of problems with the prison system ranging from inadequate prison care to misuse of public funds. All of the examples share the same motivation: profit. The essays on the prison healthcare system were particularly striking, with distributing examinations of horrific healthcare given to inmates by companies such as Correctional Medical Services. In some cases, this grossly negligent care has resulted in unnecessary deaths. The book spends a significant amount of time on the increasing number of private prisons, looking at problems and the companies behind them. In one particularly interesting chapter, Samantha Shapiro reports on the increase of evangelical Christian programs in prisons. These programs–of which Prison Fellowship Ministries is the largest–are sold to prisons as a way of minimizing violence and improving prisoner behavior. While they have had some success, the author raises important questions about the ethics of these programs. The book looks at lesser known ways in which private companies profit from mass incarceration as well, including prisoner transport, prison phone service, and jail fees.

Prison Profiteers also looks at the relationship between the growth in the private prison industry and the growth in prisoners, finding that the correlation doesn’t always work as one might expect. Logic would seem to indicate that private prison companies have grown as the number of prisoners grow, however, in some cases it appears that the privatized prison services companies–many of which often have close relationships with governments–are in some ways fostering an increase in the number of prisoners.

Overall, Prison Profiteers sheds light on an issue that many likely have not considered, while offering a larger critique of the prison system as a whole.

Tara Herivel and Paul Wright, Eds., Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money from Mass Incarceration, (The New Press, 2008).

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Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media // mediamouse.org

2 thoughts on “Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money from Mass Incarceration”

  1. I read this book earlier this year. The investigative pieces throughout are absolutely jaw-dropping. Many on the left know that our criminal “justice” system is anything but just, but the investigative pieces in this book lay bare in unexpected and shock-inducing ways how far the system is from working. In fact, as is clear from reading a few chapters, the system does the exact opposite–it criminalizes and imprisons poor people and people of color, largely to line the pockets of the private corporations who are runing these prisons. I’d encourage folks to check this book out.

  2. A “SINGLE VOICE PROJECT” is the official name of the petition sponsored by: The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP)

    THIS PETITION SEEKS TO ABOLISH ALL PRIVATE PRISONS IN THE UNITED STATES, (or any place subject to its jurisdiction)

    The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP) is a grass roots organization driven by a single objective. We want the United States government to reclaim sole authority for state and federal prisons on US soil.

    We want the United States Congress to immediately rescind all state and federal contracts that permit private prisons “for profit” to exist in the United States, or any place subject to its jurisdiction. We understand that the problems that currently plague our government, its criminal justice system and in particular, the state & federal bureau of prisons (and most correctional and rehabilitation facilities) are massive. However, it is our solemn belief that the solutions for prison reform will remain unattainable and virtually impossible as long as private prisons for profit are permitted to operate in America.

    Prior to the past month, and the fiasco of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, Lehman Brothers, and now the “Big Three” American Automobile manufacturers, the NPSCTAPP has always felt compelled to highlight the “moral Bottom line” when it comes to corrections and privatization. Although, we remain confounded by the reality that our government has allowed our justice system to be operated by private interests. The NPSCTAPP philosophy has always been “justice” should not be for sale at any price. It is our belief that the inherent and most fundamental responsibility of the criminal justice system should not be shirked, or “jobbed-out.” This is not the same as privatizing the post office or some trash pick up service in the community. There has to be a loss of meaning and purpose when an inmate looks at a guard’s uniform and instead of seeing an emblem that reads State Department of Corrections or Federal Bureau of Prisons, he sees one that says: “Atlas Prison Corporation.”

    Let’s assume that the real danger of privatization is not some innate inhumanity on the part of its practitioners but rather the added financial incentives that reward inhumanity. The same logic that motivates companies to operate prisons more efficiently also encourages them to cut corners at the expense of workers, prisoners and the public. Every penny they do not spend on food, medical care or training for guards is a dime they can pocket. What happens when the pennies pocketed are not enough for the shareholders? Who will bailout the private prison industry when they hold the government and the American people hostage with the threat of financial failure…“bankruptcy?” What was unimaginable a month ago merits serious consideration today. State and Federal prison programs originate from government design, and therefore, need to be maintained by the government. It’s time to restore the principles and the vacated promise of our judicial system.

    John F. Kennedy said, “The time to repair the roof is while the sun is shinning”. Well the sun may not be shinning but, it’s not a bad time to begin repair on a dangerous roof that is certain to fall…. because, “Incarcerating people for profit is, in a word WRONG”

    There is an urgent need for the good people of this country to emerge from the shadows of cynicism, indifference, apathy and those other dark places that we migrate to when we are overwhelmed by frustration and the loss of hope.

    It is our hope that you will support the NPSCTAPP with a show of solidarity by signing our petition. We intend to assemble a collection of one million signatures, which will subsequently be attached to a proposition for consideration. This proposition will be presented to both, the Speaker Of The House Of Representatives (Nancy Pelosi) and the United States Congress.

    Please Help Us. We Need Your Support. Help Us Spread The Word About This Monumental And Courageous Challenge To Create Positive Change. Place The Link To The Petition On Your Website! Pass It On!

    The SINGLE VOICE PETITION and the effort to abolish private “for profit” prisons is the sole intent of NPSCTAPP. Our project does not contain any additional agendas. We have no solutions or suggestions regarding prison reform. However, we are unyielding in our belief that the answers to the many problems which currently plague this nation’s criminal justice system and its penal system in particular, cannot and will not be found within or assisted by the private “for profit” prison business. The private “for profit” prison business has a stranglehold on our criminal justice system. Its vice-like grip continues to choke the possibility of justice, fairness, and responsibility from both state and federal systems.

    These new slave plantations are not the answer!

    For more information please visit: http://www.npsctapp.blogsppot.com or email: williamthomas@exconciliation.com

    To sign the petition please visit: http://www.petitiononline.com/gufree2/petition.html

    THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

    William Thomas

    National Community Outreach Facilitator

    The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons

    P.O. Box 156423

    San Francisco, California 94115

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