It turns out that enslaving people for profit isn’t a thing of the past—private prisons in America have been making revenue off their prisoners for years now, and their business is increasing.
Struggling with overcrowding, some state prisons contract their inmates to be housed in private facilities. The first private prison contract was in 1984, and since then, private prisons have grown to house roughly eight percent of the incarcerated population in 2015—a 45 percent increase from the year 2000.
The fact that prison companies are growing wouldn’t be worrisome if they had a better track record of providing quality care for the people in their facilities. But reports attest to the mediocre efforts of private prisons. Riots, deaths of prisoners and correction officers and instances of neglect have been reported numerous times.
Prison companies have incentive to cut corners–all at the cost of the ones being held captive. It’s easy for them to prioritize financial profit over quality care. Why rehabilitate prisoners? More free people means less money. Why provide quality healthcare? Cheaper services equal higher pay-offs. The same goes for food, facilities and number of guards.
GEO and Corrections Corporations of America, two of the largest prison corporations in North America, have even lobbied for laws that would improve their business. Together, GEO and CCA have contributed 25 million dollars to lobbying efforts since 1984.
CCA stated in a 2005 report that the demand for private correctional facilities could be reduced “by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities.” Policy change regarding the penalty for drug use or illegal immigration is a significant topic to these companies because of how it could influence their dollars.
Fortunately, some states–Arkansas, Utah, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan and Wisconsin–have cut their use of private prisons, because of health and safety concerns. In 2016, the Federal Justice Department announced they would no longer be contracting with private prisons. Nevertheless, many facilities remain open.
The CCA currently has eight locations in Oklahoma. Cimarron Correctional Facility, located in Cushing, had an incident in 2015 that resulted in the death of three inmates. The Tulsa World described it as “the deadliest single incident on record to occur in an Oklahoman prison.”