In 2010, the 2.2 million people incarcerated in prisons and jails represented more than a 500 percent increase from 1972. As a justification to relieve the resulting overcrowding, prison officials have sent more than 10,500 inmates to out-of-state private prisons, according to Locked up & Shipped Away, by Grassroots Leadership.
From 1990 to 2011, the number of inmates housed in private prisons in the U.S. increased 1,684 percent. In 1990, people incarcerated out-of-state averaged 7,771. That number grew to 130,941 by Dec. 31, 2011.
“The most punitive aspect of incarceration is physical separation, with prisoners and their families simultaneously enduring the punishment of incarceration”
Grassroots Leadership reports that inmates are shipped from approximately 450 miles to nearly 3,000 miles away from their homes.
“Scholars argue the most punitive aspect of incarceration is physical separation, with prisoners and their families simultaneously enduring the punishment of incarceration, Grassroots Leadership reports. “Undoubtedly, this punishment is exacerbated when prisoners are shipped from their home state.”
An interstate inmate transfer, or transferring incarcerated people to out-of-state prisons, “is detrimental criminal justice policy that hurts families,” Grassroots Leadership finds. It hinders rehabilitation by lessening the ties of inmates to their families and communities, which compromises rather than enhances the public good, the report concludes.
According to research by Vera Institute of Justice, incarcerated adults “who have strong family ties fare better in prison and pose less of a risk to public safety when they return to the community.”
Grassroots Leadership cites a New York Times exposé, “The Nation: Bartering Inmate Futures,” where both prisoner advocates and prison officials agree that the practice of transferring prisoners out-of-state ‘defies sound theory.’”
Nevertheless, private for-profit companies portray inmates as a “commodity,” hence perpetuating a business-like assessment in how to treat them that Grassroots Leadership says, “intensifies our nation’s mass incarceration crisis.” Corrections Corporation of America co-founder Tom Beasley advertises that the company was founded on the principle that you could sell prisons “just like you were selling cars or real estate or hamburgers.”
The two largest private prison companies, CCA and GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections), earned combined revenue of more than $3.2 billion in 2012, according to Grassroots Leadership.
Grassroots Leadership examined the out-of-state transfer policies of California, Vermont, Idaho, and Hawaii, along with West Virginia’s plan to move up to 400 of its inmates to private out-of-state prisons.
In 2012, the annual cost to house a California inmate out-of-state was $45,339, according to Center of Juvenile and Criminal Justice. The 2012 cost to house California inmates out-of-state was $318 million, according to The Future of California Corrections.
An inspector general audit of inmates transferred from California to out-of-state prisons in 2010 showed that the private prisons operated under a severe lack of staff screening, training, and protocol, Center of Juvenile and Criminal Justice reports.
“For example, the audit found that the hiring process [for staff] does not include a comprehensive criminal background and arrest history review. The conditions in the facilities were also found to be inadequate, with many inmates placed in segregation for 12 months or more, without access to education, treatment programs or exercise.”
In 2011, Hawaii housed almost a third of its approximately 6,000 inmates in Arizona, at a cost of more than $40 million, according to a study by Urban Institute.
It cost West Virginia about $65 a day to house inmates in-state, according to West Virginia MetroNews Network. The cost for 400 inmates would be $9.5 million. The state’s Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein said, a private prison’s bid “close to that would peak their interest.”