Private prison corporations continue to make huge profits from the United States’ high incarceration rates despite serious questions of unethical conduct, reports James Kilgore on Internet news sites Truthout and Mint Press News.
The Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group are two of the most well-known prison companies in the U.S. Between them, they brought in about $3.3 billion last year by operating numerous lock-up facilities and immigration detention centers.
Critics of the private prison industry firms accuse these and other leading companies of improprieties such as the delivery of spoiled food, charging exorbitantly high price rates for services, smuggling contraband and other illicit items into the institution and engaging in unlawful sexual relations with inmates.
According to Kilgore, critics say that this unethical behavior takes place as a by-product of the more troubling and larger context, which is encouraging and promoting “mass incarceration.”
In his article for Truthout, Kilgore identifies several sub-sectors within the larger prison industry sector: construction, electronic monitors, immigration and customs enforcement (ICE), supervision, food service, telecommunication and personal supply goods for prisoners and prison staff.
“Like many of the firms that reap profits from the prison-industrial complex, they keep quiet about it,” said Kilgore.
“We have the highest ethical standards in the industry. We do the right thing”
While it is clear that many of the private prison companies generate massive profits, supporters emphasize their belief that these firms benefit society as a whole by providing excellent services for the common good of all.
“We have the highest ethical standards in the industry. We do the right thing,” says New York-based Turner Construction, the largest in the field of prison contractors, reports Kilgore.
“Transforming criminal justice while honoring God in all we do” is the vision and slogan of prison goods supplier Bob Barker Industries (no connection to the former television game show host).
Critics, however, claim that the sub-sectors’ profiting off of the prison industry’s interest in larger and larger numbers of incarcerated men and women, represents a fundamental ethical conflict.
Prison industry subgroups sometimes have conflicting interests among themselves, Kilgore reported.
Colorado-based BI Incorporated specializes in GPS-driven ankle bracelet monitoring, said Kilgore. Their “cutting edge” services monitor about 60,000 persons at any given time nationwide.
However, for the GEO Group, whose core service is prison operation, more people out of prison on ankle bracelets could mean plummeting profits.
Not surprisingly, added Kilgore, the GEO Group bought out BI in 2011 for $415 million.
According to Kilgore, those whose focus is on moral and ethical problems would “do the right thing,” and be wise by “pulling out of prison and jail building altogether.” He noted if Turner Construction, for example, were to do so, that would reduce its annual revenue by only 3 percent.
Kilgore himself spent six and a half years incarcerated and is currently a research scholar at the University of Illinois’ Center for African Studies. His most recent book is titled Understanding and Ending Mass Incarceration: A Primer.