How Corporations make money from prison labor: They’re happy to have more inmates
By Eric Hines
From the inmate’s perspective, it’s more than frustrating. He’s worked construction for free for almost a year until a slot opens and he can finally make $.12 per hour. Inmates with more tenure might be making $100 per month to build things for Unicor, who only sells to government agencies at top dollar. Some can’t work and get $4.50 per month “maintenance allowance,” enough to buy deodorant and a candy bar.
A year ago they had little room but now three sets of bunk-beds cram six people together in a place designed for two. They once had four television rooms but those are being converted into more bed-space as well. All the while, the conversation is alive about how much money the prison is making off them.
The Bureau of Prisons and Department of Justice run state and federal prisons, both of whom point to the national budget. If asked, representatives for these prisons say that no one profits from the inmates, that the prison labor is to sustain and maintain the prison itself and that it is government funded.
Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), on the other hand, owns and manages over 65 correctional institutions and prisons at every level, representing over 91,000 beds in 20 states. According to the public financial information available, CCA received 43 percent of their total revenue from federal correctional and detention authorities. The remaining 57 percent would be profit derived from prison labor. In 2011 alone they generated $351.1 million in cash.
“We believe we have been successful in increasing the number of residents in our care and continue to pursue a number of initiatives intended to further increase our occupancy and revenue.” This statement from CCA’s 2011 Annual Report on Form 10-K is in line with what Aviva Shen writes for ThinkProgress.org on Oct. 9, 2012. “Ohio sold the prison to CCA last year to help balance the state’s 2012-2013 budget, and CCA recently offered to buy another one in exchange for the state’s guarantee of 90 percent occupancy for 20 or 30 years.”
Some inmates at that Ohio prison were sleeping on the floor and the housing units continue to provide less than the 25 square feet of unencumbered space per person required by state law.
CCA is not the only company buying and building private prisons. Over 200 facilities in the United States are privately held and are playing the numbers game quite profitably. In 1970 there were 280,000 prisoners in the United States. By 2000 that number had grown to 2,000,000. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics site (bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov), at the end of 2011 “adult correctional authorities supervised about 6,977,700 offenders.” Read on and one can see that “about 2.9 percent of adults in the U.S. (or 1 in every 34 adults) were under some form of correctional supervision.” 1 in every 50 adults were either on probation or parole while 1 in every 107 were incarcerated in prison or jail.