Private Prisons are a bad idea

February 14, 2012

The Huffington Post this morning released a letter they say comes from Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) to an official in an undisclosed state in which CCA seeks to purchase state prisons.  As part of the proposal which they call the Corrections Investment Initiative, the state would have to guarantee that the prisons would remain 90% full for the twenty years in which CCA would control the facility.  This is a bad, bad policy, and if voters do not do something about it, I can see politicians looking to make budget deals jump on this opportunity to shed the tax roll burden of prisons.  But at what cost?

Prior to 1973 the prison population in the United States consistently held steady for 50 years.  Since 1973 we have seen a huge spike in incarceration as the government's remedy for any behavior they disapprove of.  This report by the Sentencing Project shocked me to the point of disbeliefWe incarcerate a greater percentage of our population than any other nation in the world.  And for those who believe that the explosion in incarceration rates is explained by the explosion in crime rates; that is simply not true.  A report entitled Population Growth in U.S. Prisons, 1980-1996 by researchers Alfred Blumstein and Allen J. Black shows that the increased crime rate can only account for 12% of the over 200% increase in incarceration rates. 

Politicians have a saying that goes, "No one ever lost an election by getting tough on crime."  It is high time that we citizens - the voters that put these politicians in their ivory towers - change that maxim with our voting.  It is not only an embarrassment, but an outrage that we lead the world in the percentage of our citizens who are incarcerated.  To privatize that incarceration and guarantee that the government will keep those facilities 90% full is reason enough to throw out every single elected official who supports this proposal.

If a government signs an agreement to keep a facility 90% full you can bet that incarceration sentences will lengthen, parole will be denied, and alternative sentencing will go out the window in one fell swoop.  There is absolutely no reason our government should be signing an agreement guaranteeing to lock up significant numbers of our citizens over a 20 year period. 

Don't we deserve better leadership than this?  Does anyone else see the danger in our government guaranteeing to lock up huge numbers of our citizens for profit?