Exposing Injustices in Private Prisons

Private Prison Inmates Are Incarcerated Longer

Research has found that inmates in privately-operated prisons spend more time incarcerated than inmates at public prisons. Why is this happening and what can be done to fix this? Economics Professors, Dr. Gregmar Galinato and Anita Mukherjee explain causes and offer solutions.

Edited and Produced by Aislinn Walsh | Royalty-Free Stock Videos from Pexals.com and Pixabay.com

Wait, there’s A difference between public and private prisons?

By Aislinn Walsh

Since the 1980's War on Drugs, the United States has seen a 400 percent increase in the prison population. In 1980, the U.S had 501,886 people in prisons. That number rose to  2,228,400 by 2012.  While a majority of inmates are housed at public prisons, less than 9 percent, about 128,063, are housed at private prisons.  

Few know the difference between public and private prisons, or even the fact that two types of prisons even exist. However, inmates at private prisons have a significantly diminished quality of life.  Privately run prisons exist for two reasons: 1) to cut the cost of operating prison for governments or 2) to house inmates when state prisons reach capacity.  

While private prisons can be an asset to a state’s economic and criminal justice systems, the real problem lies within the business models and lack of regulation.  

Private prison corporations, like GEO Group or CoreCivic, operate private prisons under a for-profit business model. Essentially, they make money off of mass incarceration.  States will pay private prison corporations to house their inmates, typically under the per-head-per-day model. Usually, this is at a cheaper rate than what it costs the state to house the inmate. 

For example, it costs the State of Pennsylvania $200 dollars a day to house one inmate. for food, shelter, clothing, health care, and transportation. Private prisons compete by charging less per inmate per day. Given the cost savings, private prisons are a very attractive economical option. 

When a private prison enters into a per prisoner per day contract, the private prison will do what it can to profit from whatever money it receives from the state. If it can find ways to only spend less per prisoner and pocket the extra as profit, they’ll do it. Unfortunately, this means that the costs in the food, housing, healthcare, transportation, etc. sectors will be cut. Ultimately, resulting in unsanitary and dangerous conditions for inmates. 

Research conducted by Hadar Aviram, a professor at the University of California, Hastings College details private prisons’ inmate experiences and living conditions. 

Aviram told a story of a pregnant woman at Texas prison whose baby died shortly after birth. The woman, who was in solitary confinement, cried for help after her water broke. “A nurse working with a private prison provider, who was later found to have had an expired license, did not heed Guerrero’s plea for medical assistance, and the baby died shortly after its birth,” Aviram said. 

Even the transportation sector poses a threat to an inmate’s safety.  In addition to reports of physical and sexual assault, Avirm noted in the study, “These transportation services have yielded several serious problems, including dangerous driving,  improper security leading to escapes, and even inmates being burned alive in a defective bus.” 

Concerns regarding public health and safety in private prisons have been expressed. However, Aviram notes that private prisons face little to no regulation. Therefore there is no pressure for private prison corporations to change their operating procedures.

In an additional step to profit off of mass incarceration, private prisons also actively work to keep inmates in jail longer. The Sentencing Project noted that Core Civic and GEO Group worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council to create “policies promot[ing] mandatory minimum sentences, three strikes laws, and truth-in-sentencing, all of which contribute to higher prison populations.” 

These lobbying efforts work.  In a study conducted by Dr. Gregmar Galianto, an economics professor at Washington State University, research found that private incarceration increased time served in prison.  “A more significant effect of private prisons on both the number of incarcerated individuals and the sentencing length for types of crime which exhibit more leeway in sentencing: property, fraud, regulatory, drug, and public order crimes," Galianto said. 

While private prisons appear to be a more cost-effective solution, Dr. Anita Mukherjee, an economics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, warns that longer sentencing time “errods” the savings of Private prisons. In addition, in her July 2020 study, Mukherjee found inmates at private prisons spent about 90 days more in prison than their peers at state-run prisons. 

While it is important to acknowledge the flaws within the private prison, there is not a need to abolish them, but rather reform them. In separate interviews, both Drs. Mukherjee and Galianto pointed out that if private prisons were paid based on their rehabilitation rates rather than a headcount, then perhaps we would see better living conditions in private prisons.


Deprivatizing Delaware County's Only Jail

Delaware County Collation for Prison Reform, known as DelcoCPR, is a coalition seeking to deprivatize the only private jail in the state of Pennsylvania. It's comprised of members from various backgrounds who are grounded in the fight for better conditions at George Hill Correctional Facility in Glen Mills, PA. For more info, visit Delco CPR at www.delcocpr.org

*Correction: Delco CPR's title should read as "Delaware County Collation for Prison Reform", not "Delaware County Center for Prison Reform." 

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