“The profit motive of privatized prisons stands in direct conflict with the purpose of corrections, which is to correct behavior – thereby reducing future crime. Unfortunately, these corporations are counting on future crime for the financial health of their business.”
– Caroline Isaacs, American Friends Service Committee, Arizona
Any activity that can be done at a profit will tend to grow. The more profitable the activity, the greater the pressure will be for it to expand.
Does anyone dispute this? This is not rocket science. It applies whether we’re talking about selling hamburgers, building condominiums, or smuggling cocaine.
It applies equally well to keeping people in prison.
I doubt that anyone would argue that it should be a societal goal to keep more of our population in prison. And yet turning the management of prisons over to for-profit companies creates tremendous pressure to do exactly that.
It’s simple, really. A company whose profits depend on the number of people incarcerated within its prisons will naturally exert its influence to put more people in prison and keep them there longer. This will include lobbying for “get tough on crime” legislation, imposing and increasing mandatory sentences. It will include pushing for anti-immigrant legislation and harsher penalties for nonviolent crimes.
More insidiously, such a company will have no incentive to implement programs that aim to rehabilitate offenders. In fact, they will have every incentive to ensure that prisoners are not rehabilitated – that they will not be paroled, and that upon their eventual release they will commit more crimes and end up back in prison. A private prison earns greater profits by increasing recidivism.
There is nothing inherently evil about the profit motive in general. But there are certain things that it should not be applied to. Running prisons is certainly one of them.