HOW CCA ABUSES PRISONERS, MANIPULATES THE PUBLIC AND DESTROYS COMMUNITIES
The United States maintains the largest prison system in the world, far outpacing its closest international competitors in both prison population and incarceration rates.1 For the first time in 2008, more than 1 in 100 adults in the U.S. were incarcerated in county, state or federal correctional facilities.2 When probation and parole are included in the equation, approximately 7.2 million people were under some form of correctional supervision by 2009.3 This represents 1 in 31 adults in the U.S., including 1 in 18 men, 1 in 27 Latinos/as and 1 in 11 African Americans.4 As a result of the unprecedented scope of the prison system, federal and state corrections combined now cost taxpayers approximately $68 billion per year.5
The alarming scale of incarceration in the U.S. today is the result of nearly three decades of rapid expansion. Since 1980, the country has witnessed a 377 percent increase in total prison population.6 Beginning in the late 1970s with the push to “get tough on crime,” the enormous growth of the prison population has been driven in part by aggressive pursuit of criminal charges against non-violent drug offenders as part of the “War on Drugs” and harsh state and federal sentencing guidelines that have limited judicial discretion.7
Another important driving factor in the expansion of the prison population is the move toward wholesale privatization of the prison system. While the overall prison population grew by 17 percent between 1999 and 2010, the number of inmates held in private facilities increased by 80 percent.8 In 2010, 128,195 individuals were incarcerated in private facilities, representing eight percent of the total state and federal prison population.9 Federal custodial agencies have pursued privatization most aggressively over the past decade, resulting in a 784 percent increase in the number of federal prisoners held in private facilities since 1999.10
The explosion of the private prison industry over the past decade has powerfully incentivized the patterns of mass incarceration and harsh sentencing which define criminal justice in the U.S. Today, private prisons constitute a $5 billion industry that exhausts millions of dollars each year attempting to influence public policy through lobbying and campaign contributions.11 With the government as their only customer, private prison companies have developed a refined political strategy for generating revenue by manipulating public policy to provide for expanded criminalization, longer sentences and increased reliance on private prisons. This disturbing political calculation, coupled with private prisons’ abysmal record of human rights abuses, exposes the danger that prison privatization poses to the public and prisoners incarcerated in private facilities.