Critics of for-profit prisons have a point. But they’re just a symptom of the over-criminalization epidemic that started with government.
In the last few years, as a surprisingly bipartisan backlash against American over-criminalization has grown, many justice reformers have noticed, and rightfully critiqued, private prisons. The stalwart American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is uncomfortable with the idea of profiteering from mass incarceration and notes that the industry’s bread and butter is putting and keeping people behind bars. The Methodist and Presbyterian churches, and some Catholic dioceses, are starting to come out in opposition to the multibillion-dollar private prison industry. Liberal outlets like Think Progress and Alternet publish fearful exposes about these powerful, amoral corporations.
And they have good points, these upset people. They note how private prisons held 128,195 people back in December 2010. That’s only about 5.5 percent of the total population behind bars (including county jails); but that number shot up 37 percent between 2002 and 2009. Critics point to Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison corporation, which employs eight lobbyists and have waged multimillion-dollar efforts to influence laws and politics.