Private Prisons and the Fallacy of Cost Savings

In honor of The New Jim Crow and Detroit’s shift from public to private governance, this blog post is dedicated to private prisons and the fallacy of cost savings. Dating back to the 1850s, private prisons have a longstanding history in the United States. Though public entities handled the vast majority of imprisonment for most of the 20th century, following The War on Drugs, private prisons gained traction as inmate populations began to soar.

These institutions reduce the value of human life to dollar signs with lofty claims of cost savings. In reality, prison populations have risen over 500% while crime rates remain stagnant.

After researching their own finances, private companies have themselves concluded they don’t save money. Executives become rich by stripping inmates of all human rights. Cutting education programs, guard protection, even leaving cells covered in blood and fecal matter. When a person is released from one of these prisons they have gained nothing but an increased criminal network.

Currently, Michigan operates no private facilities but from 1997-2005 Wackenhut Corporation, now known as the GEO Group, opened a juvenile detention center called North Lake Facility. Following a series of contract violations and underperformance, the state of Michigan terminated its contract. These violations include: 3 times more violence than the state average, a failure to provide counseling or adequate staff levels, and almost $10 per person/ per day over the state average.

Our tax dollars are making private prison executives millionaires even though they provide subpar service. These millionaires lack an incentive to lower crime rates. In order for them to sustain operations they rely on a steady influx of criminals. Decreasing crime at any rate completely undermines the purpose of a competitive market - profit and growth.

We’ve been primed to continue this cycle indefinitely through our “Do the crime, do the time” mindsets. Under retributive law punishment seeks to deter crime, not compensate it. If punishing people for crimes does not deter them from committing said crimes, it makes no sense to employ punishment. Why do the time if it doesn’t stop the crime? Why punish Black and Latino people at higher rates with harsher sentences? Michelle Alexander attempts to answer these and several other questions in her groundbreaking book, The New Jim Crow.

Join us February 24th @ 7:30 pm on twitter as we discuss the purpose and efficacy of retributive punishment, the problematic private prison system, racially charged mass incarceration, and many more topics raised and addressed in The New Jim Crow.

The book discussion will be moderated by @sarah_smileee @phil_cosby_ and @thenewjimcrow. Follow the hashtag #blackbottombooks and @_blackbottom to keep up with the conversation!

Contributed by Sarah Johnson

Posted on February 22, 2015 .