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Prisons in America are designed with different purposes in mind. Some are used for punishment and to keep violent offenders off the street. Some people argue that prisons were designed to rehabilitate offenders, since many of them will return to neighborhoods in the future. And some contend prisons are utilized to be a deterrent and to encourage some would-be-criminals to fly straight and narrow so that they are not incarcerated. All of these would be excellent arguments in support of our prisons. But, they are not true any longer. Prisons are built for profit. The more people our country detains, the more these private-for-profit corporations are set to gain.
Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a private prison company, was incorporated in 1983. At that time, the US had a prison population of approximately 500,000 inmates. Today, we have a staggering 2.5 million inmates. We imprison a larger percentage of our population than any other industrialized nation. If you add those that are under some form of monitoring, parole or probation, more than 7 million people live under control of the criminal justice system. CCA is an active member of a powerful lobbying group, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which has been responsible for numerous laws that have put millions of people behind bars. Mandatory minimum sentences, “Habitual Offender/Three Strikes” bills (life imprisonment for a third violent felony), and even Arizona’s controversial immigration “papers please” law have all been pushed through the system by ALEC. Similar to the disaster on Wall Street, the political connections of the private prison industry and the government runs deep. There are plenty of examples of former executives of CCA becoming judges or other positions that can affect the prison population. Prisoners equal profits.
CCA has been able to essentially run a monopoly on America’s prisoners. By forcing prisoners into labor, they are able to pay the inmates nothing for their work while CCA pocket all of the profits. Furthermore, they often do not allow inmates to receive packages from the outside. Therefore, prisoners must buy their personal items such as soap and toothpaste at the corporate owned prison shop. Another big concern is that by making the prisons for-profit, prisons are understaffed. Security tends to be poor and medical care is often minimal. Lawsuits have been filed against CCA citing that poor medical care has led to inmate deaths. In January, 2009, the company paid $79,230 in a settlement to a Mexican undocumented immigrant who was injured in an automobile accident while being transported to Florence, Arizona. At least nine deaths have occurred at a CCA facility in Eloy, Arizona. CCA is also being investigated by the FBI for an incident at their prison in Idaho Correctional Center. A video released by the Associated Press shows a prison inmate being beaten unconscious with guards watching and not taking action to stop the beating.
As politicians started to look for ways to control undocumented immigrations, CCA found ways to profit from that cause. CCA began lobbying in order to be able to house the undocumented immigrants awaiting deportation. One of its key lobbyists was Philip J. Perry, son-in-law of former Vice President Dick Cheney. In all CCA spent $14.8 million lobbying the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Office of Management and Budget, the Bureau of Prisons, both houses of Congress and others between 2003 and 2010. CCA and ALEC succeeded in getting Arizona to pass its’ immigration law. Now, several other states are looking to pass similar legislation while CCA is drooling, thinking about the filled to capacity prisons and booming profits.
People are now profiting by locking up other human beings under our capitalism system. And the longer people are locked up, the more profitable the industry is. It is estimated that 60 percent of all the current prison system is housing non-violent offenders. So, we are not necessarily locking up the “bad guys.” We are essentially detaining an entire generation, leaving them with the impossibility of obtaining housing or employment following incarceration, all for a profit.