Guest Column: Prison-Industrial Complex and the immorality of for-profit prisons

Sean Tipton

Today, the prison industry has become a means for profit and because of this, it has compromised human rights and is ineffective in its application — contrary to the purpose of the United States’ criminal justice system. This is what is now known as the “Prison-Industrial Complex,” that is, the prison industry has become part of a complex system of putting large amounts of people in prison in an effort to make money and perpetuate what has quickly become a for-profit business. For-profit prisons should be illegal; they are ineffective, immoral due to their profit-driven motives and have an inexcusable influence on legislation.

Private prison corporations are paid a certain amount of money per criminal, or detainee, per day by the government. Although the amount varies from corporation to corporation (because they have separate contracts), the amount is enough that the prisons make a profit every day they have a prisoner or detainee. According to a 2008 Mother Jones article, “Why Texas Still Holds ’Em,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement pays private prison corporations an average of $95 per day to house detainees, even though it only costs an average of $14 per day to supervise them.

If private prison corporations make money everyday on the people they are containing, the corporations then have a vested interest in the number of people they hold and the amount of time for which they hold them. This leads to what Michael Welch describes as the “commodification” of criminals and immigrants.

In a 2000 Social Justice article, Welch states that among the “ongoing commodification of prisoners in American society…investors are betting that the corrections industry will continue to prosper given that its raw materials — prisoners and detainees — will remain in constant supply.”

This raises significant human rights issues. If the U.S. criminal justice system and immigration services are increasing the number of people in these facilities and increasing their sentencing because of a profit motive instead of an attempt to create a better functioning and safer society, there are some serious questions that need to be asked.

Are these private prisons (or prisons in general) effective in decreasing crime rates? In other words, if these facilities are “cracking down” on crime in a purported attempt to help society, are they successful? Why has there been such an increase in the detention of immigrants in the prison population? What exactly is the role of private prison corporations (specifically the Corrections Corporation of America) in the detention of illegal immigrants anyway?

The increased rates and lengths of detention and prison time are unjustifiable. Prisons have been shown to be ineffective in decreasing crime rates and do not release prisoners back into society any better off than when they were imprisoned.

In his article, “The Irrationality of the Prison-Industrial Complex,” Louis Kontos argues that prisons are ineffective and outdated attempts at social reform and the idea of reentry is irrational; the goal of the criminal justice system needs to be changed. Kontos says, “The illogic of a prison system that moves people around for profit stands in stark contrast with the struggle of an ex-inmate to do the right thing.” Kontos argues that prisons do not adequately prepare inmates to re-enter into society. This creates a cycle of incarceration.

If prisons are ineffective, why has there been such an increase in the prison population and number of detained illegal immigrants? The logical explanation is because private prison corporations are being contracted and paid by the government a certain amount of money per day, per prisoner/detainee. They have a vested interest in increased population and detention time. If prisons are not effective in reducing crime and reforming individuals, preparing them for re-entry, but are increasing sentencing in an attempt to increase profit, a fundamental problem of immoral motivation exists.

OSU Daily Barometer, Oregon State U. via UWIRE