Who profits from private prisons?
The Wall Street Journal tells us that private prisons are expanding in very specific places
Prison companies are preparing for a wave of new business as the economic downturn makes it increasingly difficult for federal and state government officials to build and operate their own jails.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons and several state governments have sent thousands of inmates in recent months to prisons and detention centers run by Corrections Corp. of America, Geo Group Inc. and other private operators, as a crackdown on illegal immigration, a lengthening of mandatory sentences for certain crimes and other factors have overcrowded many government facilities.
Prison-policy experts expect inmate populations in 10 states to have increased by 25% or more between 2006 and 2011, according to a report by the nonprofit Pew Charitable Trusts.
Private prisons housed 7.4% of the country’s 1.59 million incarcerated adults in federal and state prisons as of the middle of 2007, up from 1.57 million in 2006, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a crime-data-gathering arm of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Corrections Corp., the largest private-prison operator in the U.S., with 64 facilities, has built two prisons this year and expanded nine facilities, and it plans to finish two more in 2009. The Nashville, Tenn., company put 1,680 new prison beds into service in its third quarter, helping boost net income 14% to $37.9 million. "There is going to be a larger opportunity for us in the future," said Damon Hininger, Corrections Corp.’s president and chief operations officer, in a recent interview.
California has shipped more than 5,100 inmates to private prisons run by Corrections Corp. in Arizona, Mississippi and other states since late 2006, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered emergency measures to control a ballooning state-prison population. Prisons were so overcrowded that hundreds of inmates were sleeping in gyms, according to one report. An additional 2,900 prisoners are scheduled to be transferred to private prisons outside the state by the end of next year, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation….
Prison overcrowding, partially due to a crackdown on illegal immigration and longer mandatory sentences for certain crimes, could spur state and federal officials to increase the use of private prisons like this one in Otay Mesa, Calif.
Geo Group, of Boca Raton, Fla., the second-largest prison company, has built or expanded eight facilities this year in Georgia, Texas, Mississippi and other states, and it plans seven more expansions or new prisons by 2010. Last month, Geo Group was awarded a contract by Florida’s Department of Management Services to design and build a 2,000-bed special-needs prison in that state. Cornell Cos., the nation’s third-largest prison company, recently broke ground on a 1,250-bed private prison for men in Hudson, Colo.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons, the government agency that operates all federal prisons and manages the handling of inmates convicted of federal crimes, has awarded 13 contracts since 1997 to prison companies to build prisons and detention centers that house low-security inmates, primarily "low security criminal aliens," says Felicia Ponce, a spokeswoman for the agency. The contracts give the bureau "flexibility to manage a rapidly growing inmate population and to help control overcrowding," Ms. Ponce says.
So, not to put too fine a point on it, so what?
Well, the problem is that the census takes place in two years, and since 1990 prisoners have been counted in the census as residents of the place they’re incarcerated in. The census, which apportions, among other things, representation for states in the House of Representatives based on how they come out of the census. An awful lot of people who don’t get to vote are going to be swelling the numbers in whatever states those private prisons settle in.
So if your neighbor gets arrested and he’s shipped off to, say, South Carolina, he’s not eligible to vote, but he (all five-fifths of him) is counted as a resident of South Carolina for the purposes of the Census.
Which means, bluntly, that if enough people are incarcerated in a district, they can get their very own representative based on very few people who are eligible to vote.
But no, you say. That’s hypothetical and silly and does not happen. Well, no.
Danny R. Young, a 53-year-old backhoe operator for Jones County in eastern Iowa, was elected to the Anamosa City Council with a total of two votes — both write-ins, from his wife and a neighbor.
While the Census Bureau says Mr. Young’s ward has roughly the same population as the city’s three others, or about 1,400 people, his constituents wield about 25 times more political clout.
That is because his ward includes 1,300 inmates housed in Iowa’s largest penitentiary — none of whom can vote. Only 58 of the people who live in Ward 2 are nonprisoners. That discrepancy has made Anamosa a symbol for a national campaign to change the way the Census Bureau counts prison inmates.
“Do I consider them my constituents?” Mr. Young said of the inmates who constitute an overwhelming majority of the ward’s population. “They don’t vote, so, I guess, not really.”
Concerns about so-called prison-based gerrymandering have grown as the number of inmates around the nation has ballooned. Similar disparities have been identified in upstate New York, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
So where has this been happening?
You’ll be amazed.
Twenty one counties in the United States have at least 21% of their population in prison. In Crowley County, Colorado and West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, one-third of the population consists of prisoners imported from somewhere else.
Many states keep and publish information on the significant counties of origin for their incarcerated population. Of the 4,061 prisoners incarcerated in Union County, Florida, only 52 were convicted there. We can’t provide similar data for Colorado, Louisiana, Texas, and Illinois because these states consider the counties in the table so insignificant that they aggregate them together as “other”.
In 21 counties, at least 21% of the population reported in the Census doesn’t exist in that county except in one important way: on the Census form.
and most of them are
I’m sure you trust their representatives not to take advantage every bit as much as I do.