THE LATEST THINKING
The opinions of THE LATEST’s guest contributors are their own.
Law and Order: The Profit Edition
Who isn't for law and order? Let’s just remove profit out of the equation.
Back in 2016, the Obama Administration announced that the Federal Government would be phasing out the use of private prisons. One reason was an audit by the Justice Department indicating that private for-profit prisons had more safety and security problems than those run by the government. The big private prison companies of course immediately disputed the findings because their stock prices started to tank. Regardless of the disputed findings, let’s apply some common-sense economics to the use of for-profit prisons. The laws of economics would say that to achieve more profit (required by shareholders), you need more revenue and lower costs. This translates to more prisoners (revenue) and less care and security (costs).
Anyway, the big prison corporations needn’t have worried so much, for Donald Trump, the law and order (more revenue) candidate was elected and his administration quickly made private prison company stocks great again. The companies were active in their support of Trump and post-election, one of the largest of those, Geo Group decided to hold their annual leadership conference at a Trump owned property in Florida. The political contributions tend to tilt heavily in the Republicans favor in the case of these companies, but they do contribute to both parties.
Now, two of the country’s largest prison operators, CoreCivic, Inc. and Geo Group stand to further gain from the recent moves by the Federal Government on the immigration front. The Trump administration is seeking almost $3 billion in the 2019 budget to increase the number of beds for detention facilities and is acquiring information from potential providers for the bed capacity increases. In related news, the stock prices for CoreCivic, Inc. and Geo Group are on the rise and in June, the CoreCivic Inc. CEO is quoted as telling investors that the sales environment is the most robust they have seen in ten years. I’m so happy to hear of the robust sales environment for imprisoning citizens and detaining illegal immigrants.
When it comes to much needed criminal justice reform, the private prison companies are actively working against what most agree is badly needed. People often scrutinize the political contributions of big oil, big pharma and the gun lobby, but few are talking about the private prison companies that contribute and funnel millions of dollars every year to influence government to maintain our arcane criminal justice system and even to increase incarcerations. Maybe it’s not such a big mystery why both sides agree that we need reform, but it never happens.
There is no doubt, nor disputing the fact that prison and detention is a necessity for a hopefully shrinking portion of our population, but to utilize an economic model that, by definition, financially incentivizes incarcerating and detaining people, and spending the least amount possible for security, safety, and care, flies in the face of logic and plain common-sense. There are also the ethical concerns for profiting off incarceration and in a sense, profiting from crime itself. That sounds criminal.
The incarceration rate dropped again, even though Congress keeps failing to pass criminal justice reforms.