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COMMENTARY: For profit prisons

NASHVILLE PRIDE — Private for-profit prisons are a contentious reality that many feel may have a lingering detrimental effect on people.

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William T. Robinson, Jr
By William T. Robinson

Private for-profit prisons are a contentious reality that many feel may have a lingering detrimental effect on people, especially African Americans and people of color undergoing adjudication that may lead to incarceration in this country. It may be surprising how the public as a whole is not enraged and seeking to correct this practice. It is arguably a conflict of interest and can be considered an insult as well as a travesty of injustice for anyone who advocates for true equality and justice.

We have two types of prison systems. First, we have public prisons and jails run by local, state, and federal government—supported and run with taxpayer‘s money. This system, therefore, offers more public transparency and accountability. Then we have private for-profit run prisons contracted as a third party with the expectations of saving the system money. In the process of saving money, corners are cut. Thus you may find little accountability or transparency in the documentation, minimal rehabilitation, less security, fewer employees, compromised medical care, and more violent assaults among inmates and with staff occurring.

The largest private prison company in this country is CCA (Corrections Corporation of America) now called Core Civics located in Nashville Tennessee. It is rarely publicly criticized as a problematic entity and is considered a good company to invest in. Privately contracted prisons originally came about to help handle the surplus of those being sent to jail for drug-related crimes. The main argument for contracting prisons to private operations was to save money.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ last report stated that seven percent of state prisons were privately run, while 18% of federal prisons were privately contracted out. There are some who would argue that privately run prisons do not present a problem since the majority of prisons are publically run.

Make no mistake: if a private for-profit prison is a business, one can conclude that making money is the main objective and bodies are needed to meet that goal. It is not too hard to understand that justice may be compromised by subtly granting longer sentences that unfairly target various groups of people. This argument may have some credibility when considering that contracts granted to private prisons are based upon the percentage of beds being filled and longer amount of time of incarceration.

Let’s not rationalize. We know that it is morally wrong to capitalize on someone’s misfortune, especially if fairness for all is questionable or if outcomes are advantageous to private, self-serving parties. Unfortunately, but true, justice many times tends to play favorites, depending on what side of the spectrum one falls. Race, economic status, and whom you may know are some of the major factors impeding impartial treatment for all.

No one is questioning the need for prisons. But improprieties exist, and filling these prisons can often be guided by unfair practices.

Maybe if we were to live in a society where everyone (regardless of race, gender, religion, or social/economical status) is given equal access and consideration under the law, we all would feel more comfortable embracing our criminal justice system and the punishments rendered.But as it stands now, you have private companies with investors to satisfy. These companies pay lobbyists to lobby in our legislative arenas to encourage our elected representatives to enact legislation that surreptitiously promotes laws and sentencing that helps in their objective to fill more beds, making it more profitable for their investors.

Many would readily agree that privatized for-profit prisons are a flaw in our penal system, but it is apparent that the big influence and money from private companies trumps correcting this practice. We live in a capitalistic society where one could argue making money is paramount, whatever the overall cost to society.

This article originally appeared in the Nashville Pride

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