The United States, land of the free, is home to a staggering 1.6 million State and Federal prisoners.
That number, recorded in 2010 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, has some people wondering if we live in a Nation of criminals. But the evidence suggests that government largess—and the profiteers who run the privatized American prisons where 128,195 U.S. inmates reside—may have as much to do with incarceration as crime does.
The Times-Picayune in Louisiana recently published an eight-part report detailing how that State incarcerates more people than any other place in the world. One out of 86 adult Louisiana residents live behind bars— that is three times more people than are jailed in Iran and seven times as many as China, the paper reports.
Throughout the series, reporters describe Louisiana prisoners as “vehicles for profit” and explain that powerful prison lobbies have blocked reforms to the State’s multi-million dollar prison industry. While Louisiana may have the most prisoners, it certainly isn’t the only place in the Nation where incarceration is big business.
ProPublica breaks down the numbers in a recent report:
Corrections Corporation of America
66: number of facilities owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America, the country’s largest private prison company based on number of facilities
91,000: number of beds available in CCA facilities across 20 states and the District of Columbia
$1.7 billion: total revenue recorded by CCA in 2011
$17.4 million: lobbying expenditures in the last 10 years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics
$1.9 million: total political contributions from years 2003 to 2012, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics
$3.7 million: executive compensation for CEO Damon T. Hininger in 2011
The Geo Group, Inc., the U.S.’s second largest private detention company
$1.6 billion: total revenue in year 2011, according to its annual report
65: number of domestic correctional facilities owned and operated by Geo Group, Inc.
65,716: number of beds available in Geo Group, Inc.’s domestic correctional facilities
$2.5 million: lobbying expenditures in the last 8 years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics
$2.9 million: total political contributions from years 2003 to 2012, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics
$5.7 million: executive compensation for CEO George C. Zoley in 2011
The millions the prison-industrial complex spends on lobbying each year is heavily focused on ensuring that medicinal marijuana reform is stalled, and in more recent years has been used to push for stricter immigration laws. The Huffington Post reports that illegal aliens make up the fastest growing segment of the U.S. prison population.
While many Americans may favor harsh laws regarding immigration and drugs, the prison-industrial complex also routinely lobbies for draconian laws across the board. According to a Justice Policy Institute report, corruption of the judicial system can also result.
The extent to which corporate campaign contributions influence elected officials‟ decision-making is a matter of much debate. But in one recent case, a private juvenile correctional facility crossed the line, making outright payments to judges in a clear quid pro quo with tragic results.
In Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, two local private youth prisons made illegal payments to two judges totaling over $2.6 million. In what came to be known as the “kids for cash” scandal, the Mid Atlantic Youth Service Corporation paid the judges for sentencing youth to confinement in their two private youth prisons. It is estimated that over 5,000 children appeared before the two judges over the past decade, and half of those who waived their right to counsel were sentenced to serve time in one of the private correctional facilities. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, privately owned corporations operate more than 50 percent of youth correctional facilities in the United States.
The Institute reports that the prison companies are routinely in talks with judges, legislators and law enforcement agencies to encourage policies that drive-up incarceration rates throughout the Nation.