Over the past 30 years, the number of people behind bars in the United States has grown more than 500 percent to 2.2 million. A report by the Southern Center for Human Rights attributes the increase to the advent of prison privatization.
Two private prison corporations, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corporation), have profited from the dramatic rise in tough-on-crime incarceration and detention in the United States, the report adds.
During this time, immigration detention centers have risen from an average of 131 people to over 32,000 people on any given day.
Despite stating publicly that they do not lobby on sentencing or detention enforcement legislation, both corporations lobbied aggressively — to the tune of over $22 million — to increase their share of federal detention and prison contracts. In 2012, U.S. Senate records disclosed CCA hired a lobbying firm to pursue federal immigration policy issues.
During Senate hearings, quarterly lobbying records confirmed GEO Group hired a firm to influence Congress on issues related to comprehensive immigration reform in April 2013.
Once former legislators and corrections officials retire from public service, the companies hire them into the public and private sectors to take advantage of their political connections, the report disclosed. “They also help their lobbyists (or former lobbyists) obtain positions of influence in government, serving as political advisors and garnering appointments to various committees and boards.”
The companies’ investments in Congress have turned imprisonment into a multi-billion dollar industry. Together, these private sector operatives have established more than 158 correctional and detention facilities with a capacity of more than 163,500 beds in the U.S. and three other countries, the report discovered.
Their revenue has exceeded $3 billion annually, making them the third-largest prison system in the U.S., behind the states and federal government.
Despite their financial compensation, the report revealed, “there are also well-documented records of prisoner abuse, poor pay and benefits to employees, scandals, escapes, riots, lawsuits and wrongful deaths. At the same time, states and the federal governments have begun to rethink their sentencing and detention policies, citing cost, effectiveness and public safety outcomes” as reasons for reconsidering privatization as an alternative.
Corrections Corporation of America told shareholders in 2012, “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by criminal laws,” the report disclosed.
“An additional threat is the negative publicity garnered by multiple scandals in for-profit facilities nationwide. Allegations of prisoner abuse, financial mismanagement, medical neglect, riots, escapes and deaths have made headlines, contributing to growing popular opposition to for-profit incarceration and costly litigation for states. Negative publicity is viewed as a significant risk factor for investors in prison corporations, as it could impact current and future contracts,” the report stated.
CCA and GEO Group are sensitive to the industry trends and recognizes the need to seek new and different markets to conserve and increase their profits. Today, the private prison industry has adapted by expanding its services to include more treatment services while states reduce sentences to shrink prison populations.
To remain a key component in the private prison industry, both companies have constructed alternative programs – the “Treatment Industrial Complex” – into their financial portfolios.
These ventures have emerged into correctional medical care, mental health treatment and community corrections. Other services include corrections programs outside of jail or prison walls, including probation, parole, halfway houses, day reporting centers, drug/alcohol treatment programs, home confinement and electronic monitoring. In addition, supportive services such as educational classes and job training are being added to their program, the report said.
According to Southern Center for Human Rights, community corrections are big business, with three times as many people under these programs as are currently incarcerated in prison facilities.
The GEO Group has spun off a wholly owned subsidiary, GEO Care, in 2012. This corporation provides correctional mental healthcare services and operates several state psychiatric hospitals treating forensic and civil populations. More recently, Correct Care Solutions acquired GEO Care, which provides health care to incarcerated populations in 30 states, according to the report.
Since the GEO Group wanted alternatives to the prison market, the company has acquired Behavioral Interventions Inc., which manufactures GPS ankle bracelet monitors and other compliance technologies.
This new phenomenon must be examined, Southern Center for Human Rights said. These are criminal justice issues that advocates, systems actors, good government proponents, treatment and service providers, mental health advocates and government agencies must become more aware of the acquisitions of these services in the prison. It is critical that advocates of prison reform begin evaluating every proposed movement into this industry, the report added.