Research & Policy
Policy Matters Ohio

No justice in the prison industry

May 28, 2015

No justice in the prison industry

May 28, 2015

The footprint of the for-profit prison industry is growing ever larger, and a recent Washington Post article helps explain why. The two largest prison companies in the United States and their associates have funneled more than $10 million to political campaigns and spent almost $25 million lobbying, according to the Post. What do they want for that money? Laws that keep their prisons full. One of those companies is Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). In 2011, Ohio sold the Lake Erie Correctional Institute in Conneaut to CCA. The results have been disastrous. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio exposed the flaws of the CCA-owned prison in a film, “Prisons for Profit: 18 Months in the Life of the Nation’s First Prison Sold for Profit,” which premiered at the Cleveland International Film Festival in March. The short film documents dangerous issues at the prison after CCA took over: Increased violence, rampant drug use, poor medical care and mismanagement. State audits also found patterns of inadequate staffing, delays in medical treatment and “unacceptable living conditions,” including inmates lacking access to running water and toilets. Private ownership has also curtailed spending on rehabilitation. CCA terminated an education program offered by Kent State University at Lake Erie Correctional. So who benefits from corporate-run prisons? Certainly not taxpayers. A 2011 report from Policy Matters showed that contrary to claims that privatization would save the state millions of dollars, it likely will cost the state more. In a statement applauding the federal Bureau of Prisons for ending its contract with CCA to operate a prison in Youngstown, Mike Brickner of the Ohio ACLU said the culture of secrecy at private prisons leads to a lack of transparency and accountability to the public. "We cannot stress this enough — the for-profit prison business is bad for prisoners, prison employees, communities, and taxpayers." Meanwhile, CCA and GEO — the two largest prison companies — take in a combined $3.3 billion in revenue nationwide. As a recent Slate article says, the focus on profits defeats a key goal of rehabilitation and “inherently corrupts the entire criminal justice system.” -- Harlan Spector and Nathan Steinberg

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