Last week, the country’s two largest private prison operators, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, released their annual financial reports. The numbers were what we’ve come to expect — staggering. Combined, the two publicly traded companies collected $361 million in profits last year. That’s profit — taxpayer money that could be going to fixing our criminal justice system, which is badly broken.
In the Public Interest ran the numbers and that means CCA made $3,356 in profit for every person it incarcerated, and GEO Group made $2,135. What if we spent that money on mental health care, drug treatment, education or job training for those prisoners? What if, instead of lining the pockets of private prison corporate executives and shareholders, that money was invested in cultivating safer conditions in our jails and prisons?
Most agree that our criminal justice system is in crisis.
In the Public Interest is happy to be kicking off 2016 with good news. Pushed by students and workers, the University of California has announced it will divest from private prison companies such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group.
This is yet another win for criminal justice reform—Columbia University divested from CCA last summer. The private corrections industry, which makes more profit when more people are in the system, is an obstacle to the changes many of us want to see.
The industry doesn’t want change. An executive with GEO Group, the second largest private prison operator in the U.S., recently boasted that the country would continue to “attract” crime. He shared the “good news” to investors: “The reality is, we are a very affluent country, we have loose borders and we have a bad education system.”
Private prison companies claim to do a better job more cheaply,
It’s unusual for a private contractor to terminate its own contract, especially a contract for $1.2 billion. But that just happened in Florida.
After two years of controversy, Corizon, America’s largest for-profit prison health care provider, just decided to end its care of 74,000 prisoners in the state. The company—which is owned by a private equity firm—says it is leaving because the contract terms aren’t flexible enough. But Corizon’s time in Florida has a familiar ring to it: understaffing, poor service and hundreds of lawsuits by prisoners.
Last year, 346 prisoners died in Florida prisons—the highest number in the state on record, even though the total number of prisoners has declined. Of those prisoners, 176 were listed with no immediate cause of death.
A recent state audit found nursing and staffing shortages, “notable disorganization” among medical records, and “life threatening” conditions.
In the Public Interest has made exciting progress over the past few years. Our team has worked incredibly hard, so I’d like to take a step back and share what we’ve been up to.
Even I was surprised by how much we’ve accomplished. We get calls every week from organizations around the country asking for campaign help; from state and local policymakers looking for model bills or support on legislative proposals; and from journalists needing background or quotes. Just recently, a Barcelona TV station interviewed me about private prisons in the U.S. (There are zero in Spain!)
When we added it up, we found that we’ve directly helped state and local organizations in 32 states, and our research and commentary have been cited in over 150 publications, including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and local papers across the country like the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Bakersfield Californian.
Like many states in the “tough on crime” era, Minnesota is struggling to reduce overcrowding in its prisons and jails. For now, the state’s government is paying counties to house over 500 incarcerated people that its prisons can’t hold. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the notorious private prison operator, says they have a long-term solution for Minnesota.
But Minnesotans, backed by the criminal justice reform movement sweeping the country, are responding with “No thanks!”
CCA wants to reopen the shuttered Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton, MN, and lease space to the state. They deny they’re lobbying in Minnesota, but a politically connected lobbying firm, Goff Public Affairs, is pushing state officials to reopen the prison. That would be a costly mistake for both moral and economic reasons.
The company has a long rap sheet of cutting corners for the sake of profit,