The private prison industry's ability to remain under the radar (despite its growing political influence) is disconcerting, but to be expected. Their specific efforts to go unnoticed are likely because of what most people would think if they really knew the scope of what was going on, so I think it's finally time we talk about it a little more.
Here are some of the basic facts:
- The 2 big players in the 5 BILLION dollar industry are CoreCivic and the GEO Group
- Private prisons span 33 states including liberal states such as NY and Mass.
- Companies that use their prisoner labor include Boeing, Starbucks, Victoria’s Secret, McDonalds, BP, Verizon and many more.
The inherent problem with having prisons for profit is that seeking more profits means seeking more prisoners. 65% of these private prisons get paid per prisoner. AZ, OK, LA and VA all have contracts that require 95% to 100% occupancy at all times. So what do they do?
For private prisons to reach their quotas and profit objectives, they've spent millions on lobbying so politicians can change laws. The numbers spent were once almost evenly split between parties, but over time they've decidedly invested their increasing lobbying budget in Republicans.
The private prison industry donated a record amount to the Trump campaign in particular as Obama was planning on cutting their government contracts. That investment paid off and their friend Jeff Sessions even instituted mandatory minimum sentences to help their numbers.
It should be noted that Trump's entire ICE crackdown isn't just red meat for his base, but also big money for his donors. Many centers where undocumented immigrants are held are privately owned. Daniel Ragsdale, the #2 at the government agency even left to go work at GEO. This goes to show how closely the private and public entities work hand in hand. How can there be any oversight when the companies being looked over are offering cushy jobs the government officials who oversee them? Another benefit for private prisons is politicians offer close to no oversight in exchange for campaign contributions. Suicides, riots, and escapes take place while the prison pays off those they should be answering to. Meanwhile, taxpayers see little to no return on investments. To make matters worse, between 1990 and 2009, the number of private prison inmates increased by over 1600% (!) and it's only gotten worse. The prisoners are disproportionally black, they work for close to nothing, and the taxpayers get played. The only winners are the profiteers.
So what can you do? One solution that comes to mind is call the companies who use this forced labor and demand they stop. Another solution that comes to mind is to call your elected officials and verify that they're not being an accessory to this sadistic industry. Let them know that accepting money from the private prison industry in your name will cost them your vote. Let them know that you demand better. Neither are guaranteed to work, but apathy guarantees those who would put a price on freedom a win.