Prison Privatization as Political Payback

Across the country, politicians have been selling off public assets to private businesses in exchange for hefty campaign contributions and sweetheart deals.  The politicians claim they are saving tax dollars, but when the real costs are examined, it’s only the corporations – who back them financially at election time – who are making a financial killing on the deals.  This kind of corrupt pay-back to wealthy corporate-CEOs has produced numerous disasters for taxpayers, who end up paying more in the long run.

Nowhere has this “pay and play” scandal been more outrageous than in the recurring efforts of some governors to privatize their state prisons.  They sell the prisons to private contractors – including the GEO Group, Corrections Corporation of America, and the Management & Training Corporation – who then cut corners on safety, health and services.  Some contractors refuse to take the most hardened criminals or those who are in need of medical and psychological services.  Even without those prisoners, they run up costs to increase their profits.

All too often, private prisons cause more problems than they solve. For-profit prisons have significantly higher rates of inmate-on-guard assault, violence and escapes in broad daylight.  One reason for the increase in violence is the habit of the profiteers to discharge the highly-trained staff and replace them with low-wage, low-skilled employees who are unable to meet the demands of staffing corrections facilities that house some of society’s most dangerous felons.  Even in minimum-risk facilities, the privateers increase the danger to prisoners and the community when they make cuts to increase profits.

Judge Greg Mathis recently made that point in an article discussing a suit against GEO Group – brought by dozens of family members of inmates at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in Jackson, Miss.  The families contend that the corporation forces the prisoners – two thirds of whom are non-violent offenders – to live “in sub-standard conditions, where they are subject to excessive force from staff and are sexually preyed upon by other inmates and staff.”  As Judge Mathis notes, one young man, 21-year old Mike McIntosh II, was so brutally injured in one incident that he now suffers from short-term memory loss and has lost the function of his right arm and right leg.


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