Thursday, September 27, 2012

Prison Profit

Here's an interesting aspect of the immigration story.

Chris Kirkham, writing on the Huffington Post, details the huge windfall at private for-profit prison management companies as a result of the increased focus on immigration crimes.

And these are not violent crimes, nor are the perpetrators facing deportation. Most of the inmates at these prisons are in a legal purgatory for committing the innocuous federal offense of simply crossing the border. According to Kirkham, these cases are being filed in record numbers.

"For three years in a row, more people have been convicted of immigration offenses than of any other type of federal crime," says Kirkham, quoting sources on the United States Sentencing Commission.  This represents a "dramatic shift in the makeup of the U.S. criminal justice system, which has been dominated by drug crimes in recent decades."

This tidal wave of immigration offenders "flow into the federal prison system" and are housed in private enterprises "operated by multibillion-dollar corporations that contract with the government." And Congress is getting ready to spend another $25 million of taxpayers' money on such private prisons. The offer comes with a guarantee sure to lure investors: 90 percent occupancy.

Here are the stats: private for-profit prison corporations like Corrections Corporation of America took in $205 million from their 2011 contracts; the GEO Group hit the jackpot at $258 million.

Of course this comes after a "slate of new border security initiatives over the past decade." Kirkham goes on to say that "The number of immigration convictions has now surpassed drug convictions."

In the much ballyhooed war on drugs, we saw a disproportionate number of male blacks incarcerated in our prisons. Now we have managed to lock up an increasing number of people of color in a new war, the war on immigrants.

As we have seen with the housing bubble--roping people into mortgages they have no way of ever paying off and then betting on their foreclosures--and with student loan debt which has skyrocketed beyond credit card debt, privatizing prisons represents a "can't lose" opportunity for investors, all backed by the full faith and credit of the United States' government

In the end, does this answer America's immigration issue, or simply line another corporation's pockets with tax dollars?


  1. And then there is this:
    "One in ten state prisoners nowadays is a lifer, and about the same proportion of federal prisoners over 50 are serving 30 to life. In short, more than 100,000 prisoners are currently destined to die in prison, and far more will remain there well into their 60s and 70s. Many of these men—as most of them are men—were never violent criminals, even in their youth. [Source].

    Thank you for writing about this, Paul.

  2. Annie, thanks for commenting and adding to the story.

    Two issues collide here: our immigration policy problems and our prison system inequalities. What bothers me most is that we have found a way to make money on things that should never be about that. A business that provides a service for a fee, that I understand, but when the business is a school or prison and the service provided involves people with few choices or legal recourse, that disturbs me. And I lay all of this at the feet of our inept leaders. It would seem the American people have few choices when it comes to our own leadership. There is a dearth of wisdom at the top. We cannot be a smarter country without smart leadership.

    Thanks again.


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