The Privatization of Prisons

The prison industrial complex refers to the tremendous growth in commerce to private companies that own and operate prisons, and to businesses that supply prisons with goods and services. 

These companies have a strong lobbying base, and present themselves as jobs-creators and an effective solution to issues of unemployment, crime, and other social problems.  However, private businesses that serve, operate or own prisons are like other business entities.  Their first priority is not rehabilitation, nor is it reduction of crime.  These are public interests, and require public accountability.  

Today, prisons are a big business.  Until recently, they have been a growth industry, especially in rural areas with small populations and little other commerce. 

"Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850.  In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system – in prison, on probation, or on parole – than were in slavery then.  Over all, there are now more people under 'correctional supervision' in America – more than six million – than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height."  —Adam Gopnik, "The Caging of America," The New Yorker, January 30, 2012

Governments invest heavily in managing criminal justice facilities and activities.  Estimates of unduplicated expenditures by city, county, state and federal governments approach $300 billion a year.  Prisons require large staffs that are highly trained.

The prison population, which tends to be sicker and more troubled than the general community, must be fed, clothed, housed and supervised.  Prisons represent a market for locks, construction, transportation and surveillance equipment. 

Partly in response to the high cost of housing a burgeoning prison population, there is a growing trend to privatize prison management and ownership.  For-profit entities have tended to take on minimum security facilities – the least expensive – and to reduce programs to save costs.  A key issue in privatization is reduced public access, accountability and control.


Opposing Privatization of Prisons: Talking Points

Powerpoint: Statistics on the Privatization of Prisons


May 6, 2013: From the Center for Media and Democracy's PR Watch, ALEC Assembles "Most Wanted List"

June 22, 2012: NY Times columnist Paul Krugman writes:  "As more and more government functions get privatized, states become pay-to-play paradises, in which both political contributions and contracts for friends and relatives become a quid pro quo for getting government business."  Read Prisons, Privatization, Patronage.

June 18, 19, 20, 2012: Three part New York Times report on widespread abuse at privatized, 900-bed, pre-release center in New Jersey, As Escapees Stream Out, a Penal Business Thrives, At a Halfway House, Bedlam Reigns, A Penal Unit, a Volatile Mix fuels a Murder .

April 2012: UCC Southwest Conference passes resolution opposing privatization of prisons: Advocating for Justice in the Prison Industrial Complex. Here is the Southwest Conference's press release.

March, 2012: United Church of Christ Collegium of Officers sends letter protesting sale of prisons to private companies, according to United Church News.


Ms. Annie Congress
Administrative Assistant, Justice & Witness Ministries
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, Ohio 44115