Why Do We Have Private Prisons?


Do private prisons have a place in the criminal justice system within these United States? The U.S. has a prison population larger than that living in many of its major cities and that population increases daily. Collectively, on a national level, the American prison and jail population is larger than that of Phoenix by more than half a million people.

America has the fastest growing prison populations in the world. With an estimated 2.2 million people incarcerated in prison and jail facilities, the national prison and jail population ranks higher than that of major American cities such as Dallas, San Diego, San Antonio, Philadelphia and the already mentioned Arizona city. Only Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, with respective estimated populations of 2.3, 2.7, 4.0 and 8.6 million residents, outrank the incarcerated.

Companies operating private prisons in the U.S. have a huge financial stake in maintaining control over such facilities. The profit these companies make is not so much in prison construction as it is in prison labour. Goods and services, a significant income stream for companies operating private prison facilities, is where the profit lies. A significant number of office desks and chairs are made in America by convicts. All of that will vanish if Sen. Elizabeth Warren realises her presidential aspirations.

Warren, the senior United States Senator for Massachusetts since 2013, has a plan which will see private prison facilities in these United States become history. Would, if elected president, Warren see this plan become a reality?

Congressional Approval…

While certain people might think a sitting president might need congressional approval, that is not true. For much of what the presidential hopeful is proposing, Warren would not currently need to go through either the United States House of Representatives or the United States Senate. Regardless of which political party controls Congress, for much of her plan to become a reality, Warren would not need to seek congressional approval. Consequently, any contracts I.C.E. and the U.S. Marshals have with private detention provides will vanish. There will be no more Federal money going to private prison and jail facilities of any kind.

Facility Occupancy…

For a private facility to qualify for Federal and or state funding, the company operating the facility must meet certain requirements. One of those requirements is occupancy. What is the occupancy rate for a given facility? When talking about occupancy rates in relation to either prison and or jail facilities, one might automatically think of motels and hotels.

Companies operating private prisons have contracts with the respective state just like any other company which provides a service. Private prisons, like hotels, depend on occupancy for success. Consequently, maintaining occupancy is a must if the facilities are to remain open. Some states require facilities to maintain an occupancy rate of no less than 70 per cent. If the facility sees occupancy fall too low, it impacts funding. As a result, the facility consequently closes.

FOIA Requests, Re-Entry, Supervision and Probation Services…

Unlike state and federally operated prison facilities, private prisons are currently not subject to FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests. Part of Warren’s plan private prison facilities adhering to the same guidelines state and federal prisons.

In regular prisons, such things as re-entry, supervision and probation services are taxpayer funded, but on many occasions, this work is seen contracted out to private prison facilities. If Warren’s plan sees the light of day, these contracts will also vanish.

Even though Fox News hosts might have a different spin on what Warren is proposing, private prison abolishment is not a new concept. Back in 2105, when Bernie Sanders was seeking the Democratic Party candidacy, part of his platform was seeing private prisons gone from this country.

Despite other presidential hopefuls having similar ideas, we need to take a closer look. Do Democratic presidential nominees have firm plans?

Final Thoughts…

Private Prison Facilities
The entrance to the Two Rivers Regional Detention Facility in Hardin, Mont. The 464-bed detention facility was built with the promise of bringing jobs and stimulating the economy, but it has sat empty since it was completed in 2007.
Image Credit: NPR … Matthew Brown/AP

Supporting the abolishing of private prison is not the same as having an idea supported by a concrete plan. The idea is great, but if there is no plan, don’t bother suggesting it because it simply will not work. None of the Democratic nominees, except for Warren and Sanders, have a clue about formulating a plan.