American Taxpayers are paying millions to private prison companies for empty prison beds
By April V. Taylor
The advocacy group In The Public Interest, has uncovered some startling facts about contracts between private prison companies and state and local governments all over the country. Language in two-thirds of the more than 60 contracts they reviewed explicitly mentions “quotas” for prisoners. The quotas cover a wide range of minimum mandatory occupancy, with some contracts for prisons in Arizona requiring 100 percent mandatory occupancy. Sixty-five percent of the contracts contained mandatory occupancy provisions that required prisons to remain between 80 and 100 percent full.
Language in two-thirds of the more than 60 contracts they reviewed explicitly mentions “quotas” for prisoners.
The quotas cover a wide range of minimum mandatory occupancy, with some contracts for prisons in Arizona requiring 100 percent mandatory occupancy. Sixty-five percent of the contracts contained mandatory occupancy provisions that required prisons to remain between 80 and 100 percent full.
While mainstream media keeps people distracted with the latest celebrity gossip, private prison companies like The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) are offering governors in 48 states contracts that would be binding for 20 years. According to In The Public Interest, this particular offer included demands like requiring that prisons remain 90 percent full for the entire 20 years, essentially guaranteeing that multiple generations of future Americans will grow up in a criminalized society that profits from taking their freedom for “petty, frivolous and nonviolent crimes.” Forty-one of the 62 contracts reviewed by the organization had mandatory occupancy requirements, with Arizona, Oklahoma and Virginia having the highest occupancy requirements.
If that isn’t bad enough, many of the contracts that were reviewed imposed fines and penalties for unused facilities, meaning that taxpayers would be paying for a reduction in crime rates by having to pay private prison companies for not being able to make a profit from full prisons. One of the ways private prisons have been working to make sure they are able to maintain maximum occupancy rates is by backing and lobbying for “three-strike” laws that impose decades long mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders. One such law saw a Louisiana man get life in prison after being arrested for purchasing $20 worth of marijuana for an undercover agent. What’s worse is the fact that the man was homeless and hungry and the undercover agent promised a five-dollar finder’s fee if he purchased the marijuana for him.
America already imprisons a higher percentage of its population than any other country in the world. As much as that has to do with private prison companies that treat taking the freedom of human beings as a commodity, it is also fueled by policymakers who have incentives in the form of campaign donations and the like to enact laws that keep prison beds full rather than focusing on long-term policy changes that would reduce prison populations. State and local governments as well as taxpayers are being held hostage by private prison companies with the penalty of not continuing to incarcerate people with no regard for public safety or crime rates costing millions of dollars.
A spokesperson for CCA says that government agencies are sometimes the party that asks for bed guarantees to prevent the company from giving the beds away to another client and to also be able to take advantage of the lowest possible rate. Whether it is the fault of private prison companies or state and local governments, taxpayers are being forced to pay millions of dollars for living in a society that does not produce enough criminals for companies to continue to produce ever increasing profits. As the report from In The Public Trust points out, “Private prisons were intended to be a safety valve to address demand that exceeded public capacity. It was never intended that taxpayers would be the safety valve to ensure private prison companies’ profits.”