The United States has the world’s largest private prison population, according to a study by The Sentencing Project. The study compares America’s growing private prison industry to government-run prisons and found that increased profiting from incarceration is tied to prison building, inmate population growth, and lower wages for guards, which resulted in decreased institutional safety.
According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), In August 2000, 4,535 inmates were listed as housed at a private Community Correctional Facility or on “private work furlough.” (Another 2,467 were housed at Community Correctional Facilities under public contract).
In August 2016, 8,629 inmates were housed in private facilities. Another 2,020 were housed under public contract.
As of Aug. 22, 2018, 6,231 inmates are housed at private prisons. Another 2,029 inmates are housed at Community Correctional Facilities under public contract.
In addition, in June, all California inmates housed at Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility (TCCF) in Mississippi were transferred from that institution, allowing CDCR to reduce its current out-of-state prison population to 2,014, a 10-year low and 58-percent reduction from August, 2016.Key findings of the study are:
One in 12 of the total U.S. prison population (128,063 people) were incarcerated in private prisons in 2016 — an increase of 47 percent since 2000. From 2000 to 2016, the number of people housed in private prisons increased five times faster than the total prison population.
Privately run immigration detentions held 26,249 people in fiscal year 2017 — a 442 percent increase since 2002. Seventy-three percent of all people in immigration detention in 2017 were held in private prisons.
The largest number of people in private prisons are held in federal prisons, 34,159 — a 120 percent increase since 2000.
Core Civic and GEO Group, the largest private prison corporations, jointly manage more than half of the private prison contracts in the United States. Their combined revenues are $3.5 billion as of 2015.
Private prison firms cut costs by employing mostly non-union and low-skilled workers at lower salaries, with fewer benefits, compared to correctional personnel at state and federal prisons. Corrections officers employed by private corporations earn up to $23,850 less on average in annual salary compared to the public sector.
Decades of research do not show that private prisons save taxpayer dollars.
The greatest numbers of private prisons are found in Florida, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina and Texas. These states also have had the highest number of riots, deaths and “allegations of improper financial influence from the for-profit prison companies,” the study shows.
To accommodate increases in arrests and detention of immigrants, Pres. Donald J. Trump’s 2018 proposed budget to Congress asked for $1.2 billion to add 15,000 more private prison beds for immigration detention. In September 2017, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requested funds for construction of a new, GEO Group-run, 1,000-bed detention facility South Texas.
The study cites a GEO Group facility in Colorado where thousands of immigrant detainees allegedly were forced to work for $1 a day. A lawsuit against the practice claims that they were paid with “chicken, potato chips, soda or candy.”
In Washington State in 2017, the state’s Attorney General sued GEO Group for allegations that immigrant detainees were mandated to work for $1 a day. The Attorney General argued that the state’s minimum wage was $11 an hour, and that the detainees were being held under “civil charges, not criminal charges,” meaning that that minimum wage must be upheld.
Recommendations and findings:
“Due to the numerous and transparency issues associated with for-profit prisons, states and the federal government should phase out their reliance on these facilities through terminating contracts. To the extent that jurisdictions continue to contract with private prisons, they should adopt policies requiring greater transparency and openness to public inquiry. Currently, the Federal Freedom of Information Act does not apply to private prisons and therefore there is no legal remedy if a private prison refuses to disclose information about its practices.
“In contrast to public prisons, private prisons frequently contract with state governments to confine people out-of-state, with 10,500 people housed this way as of 2013. The practice negatively affects families because it limits opportunities for visitation and strains relationships, which are critical to successful reintegration after incarceration.
“The Department of Homeland Security’s bed quota for immigrant detention requires the agency to maintain no less than 34,000 beds at any given time. Because of this quota, Immigration and Customs Enforcement expanded its contracts with private prison companies to house federal immigrant detainees. It provides an incentive to maintain private prison contracts and keep immigration detention beds full.”