State Prisons: Prosper and Profit

How private prisons are redefining incarceration


James Peru, Cactus Editor

If you have been following The Cactus this semester, you will know that a recurring theme has been where higher education stands in the pecking order in terms of state subsidy—or more accurately, its complete absence from the pecking order altogether.

Annual funding for higher education is quickly reaching zero dollars, and while the state owes this drastic withdrawal of funding to lack of funding of its own, there is still one institution profiting greatly—private prisons.

The birth of the private prison system is a relatively new phenomenon, and was brought about to compensate for the overcrowding of state prisons, due to mandatory sentences for nonviolent crimes. As a result, many state-run institutions were handed over to private corporations claiming they could run the prisons more effectively, and put less of a burden on the taxpayers. However, many recent inquiries have found this to not be the case. According to an article in The New York Times, regarding research performed by the Arizona Department of Corrections, “The state’s own data indicate that inmates in private prisons can cost as much as $1,600 more per year, while many cost about the same as they do in state-run prisons.”

With the only purported benefit of privatizing the prison system in question, one begins to wonder why they are still in use. And yet, not only is this bad business not allowed to fail, it is fail proof.

According to the October 2015 “Prison Issue” of VICE Magazine, Arizona is home to the only private prisons in the country requiring a 100 percent lockup quota. This quota is a contractual agreement between the state and the privately run prison guaranteeing a certain amount of funding. A 100 percent lockup quota guarantees that the prison will receive funding for maximum capacity, even if capacity is not met. This quota also incentivizes the state to keep incarcerating at a high rate, in order to ensure these prisons are kept at maximum capacity.

Arizona also holds the distinction of being ranked near the bottom of the pack in terms of funding to higher education, and at the top in terms of incarceration rates.

Pinal County represents the nexus of these two unfortunate statistics, and here at the college the results can be seen. Meanwhile, just a stone’s throw away, major private-prison corporation CCA (owner and operator of four private-prison facilities within the county’s borders) rakes in millions of dollars in revenue each year thanks to taxpayer dollars. And where does that money end up? It ends up in the pockets of shareholders.

But who is to blame here? It is easy to see the corporations themselves as the culprit, but to do so is to ignore the larger problem—the current legislation. Because the prison system has been privatized, and corporate influence has been let in, this is the only logical outcome. Corporations have a legal obligation to act in the best interest of their shareholders, and more prisoners means more money. Therefore, if any changes are to be made, it will have to be at the legislative level.

Already, with the current election cycle barely revving up, these corporations have been lobbying hard, and lending financial support to candidates who aren’t proposing any changes to current policy—such as decriminalizing marijuana, or changing immigration laws—as changes would result in a massive reduction in prison population, and thusly, revenue.document.currentScript.parentNode.insertBefore(s, document.currentScript);