With President Obama’s history-making prison visit to El Reno Federal Penitentiary this summer, reform has become a large part of the national discussion. Prisoners are being released in record numbers, and with an upcoming election year, politicians and pundits alike have made it a hot topic. While arrest and sentencing accounts for a large part of the process, so do the institutions where our inmates are held. Given all the talk of reform, a question arises: Can there be true reform if an entire industry depends on more prisoners, not less?
Many refer to the “Prison Industrial Complex,” as a societal issue tied to nearly all parts of society, and many find it controversial. However, one irrefutable part of this “complex” are privatized prisons. This term refers to an outsourcing of the control and management of prison facilities. Some are contracted by the federal government, yet some exist strictly for profit.
The problem with a for profit prison arises with the issue of whose interests are the priority. Many would argue that the interests of the inmates and their rehabilitation and punishment is the most important, yet some may offer that the interest of the community at large is being protected and insured, as putting the criminals in a detention center will keep the streets safer. However, would anyone offer that the most important person in the system is the CEO or the shareholders?
With all businesses, the primary focus is cost to profit ratio. With this equation, the operational costs are only justifiable by the amount of profits the company is generating. The fundamental problem arises when this equation is closely examined, as profits are contingent on the labor force, and costs are incurred in areas such as personnel (for example: how they are sourced and trained), and the resources available to the inmates. In an effort to cut costs, many of these prisons hire inexperienced staff and do not provide proper training necessary for the job. Furthermore, the inmates are denied many of the effective programs, therapies, and education that could facilitate reform, moreover they are denied the basic nutrition, and many other necessities to maintain even the lowest standard of living, all under the guise of “cost management.”
Many argue that private prisons have the abilities and connections to provide work experience and skill training, but as we’ve seen with Whole Foods’ relationship to private prisons, who is truly benefiting? The bottom line is that quotas must be met, and cells must be filled if a prison is to turn a profit. So, if a prison must be filled to capacity or beyond for maximum profitability, do those involved want to see reform? Would they have any interest in seeing alternative methods enacted to help inmates, or would it take away profits and hurt the bottom line? What do you think? Tell us on Facebook or Twitter
November 4, 2015 / Ryan Serey