The Private Prison Complex—America takes notice

When one thinks of modern industries in the United States what companies come to mind? Wal-Mart, Apple, oil companies such as Exxon and Chevron likely make that mental list.
One would not typically think about a company such as the Corrections Corporation of America, a privately owned prison system — or as they describe themselves on their own website (in a much friendlier fashion) as “America’s Leader in Partnership Corrections.”
Private prisons are hardly a new concept, as the CCA website continues, “For more than 30 years, CCA has designed, built, operated and managed prisons, jails and detention facilities on behalf of our government partners.”
However, there has been quite a buzz about them in recent pop culture. On Kanye West’s latest album, Yeezus, he calls the company out by name on the track New Slaves: “Meanwhile the DEA, teamed up with the CCA, they tryn’a lock n*ggas up, they tryn’a make new slaves, see that’s that privately owned prison, get your piece today.”
On the animated show The Boondocks, the third season has an episode titled “Date With the Booty Warrior”, in which the lead character Huey breaks down the modern prison industry complex.
In a “Scarred Straight” scenario where he and other boys take a trip to prison, an inmate gets in Huey’s face and asks him what he knows about the corrupted system.
Humorously, the boy responds with a thorough answer, “The prison industrial complex is a system situated at the intersection of government and private interests. It uses prisons as a solution to social, political and economic problems. It includes human rights violations, the death penalty, slave labor, policing, courts, the media, political prisoners and the elimination of dissent.”
In 2009, comedian and satirist Bill Maher wrote an article for the Huffington Post titled “New Rule: Not Everything in America Has to Make a Profit”.
Here Maher takes shots at The War Industry, The Health Industry, and of course, The Private Prison Industry. Maher explains, “A company called the Corrections Corporation of America is on the New York Stock Exchange, which is convenient since that’s where all the real crime is happening anyway. The CCA and similar corporations actually lobby Congress for stiffer sentencing laws so they can lock more people up and make more money. That’s why America has the world’s largest prison population ­– because actually rehabilitating people would have a negative impact on the bottom line.”
Maher is correct, at 2.2 million The United States leads the world in incarcerated citizens, or for the per capita rate, 716 prisoners per 100,000 people (Russia’s per capita rate by comparison is 490 per 100,000).
The CCA isn’t alone in the business, their top rival the GEO Group makes a boast similar to the other company’s on their own website, “the world’s leading provider of correctional, detention, and community reentry services.”
The GEO is no stranger to lawsuits due to abuse and neglect of prisoners. In fact they had a record breaking claim against them – $40 million — in the 2001 beating death of an inmate named Gregorio de la Rosa Jr. of Laredo, Texas. At that dollar number it is the highest human rights case in the U.S. history.
There are those in politics — such as the libertarians and the Rand Pauls of the world — who feel that anything the public sector can do the private can do more efficiently.
That’s yet to be seen as the case when it comes to prisons. Worst yet, the private prison’s major claim to be a money saver when compared to their public counterparts is debatable at best.
There are studies cited in a 2012 article by Mark Evans titled “Private prisons not saving us money – so why do we still have them?” that address the issue.
“Recent investigations by the Arizona Republic, the Associated Press and prison watchdog groups, the American Friends Service Committee and The Sentencing Project, have shown private prisons are actually costing taxpayers more money than if the government ran the prisons,” Evans wrote.

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