Corruption at the Heart of America’s Private Prison System
There is a crisis looming in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. GEO Group, a billion dollar for-profit prison conglomerate with a long track record of civil rights abuses, could soon take over all re-entry work for parolees in Lancaster County. Right now, many local non-profit organizations provide services to support former inmates returning to society, including assistance finding employment, housing, services for children with incarcerated parents, sexual assault counseling, and more. The local community has built a coalition with deep and supportive roots, and do not want this change – but they’re up against a special interest with a lot of cash.
Last year, the Lancaster County Commissioners initiated a competitive bidding process that was seemingly designed to favor GEO Group’s for-profit model over the many non-profit organizations that currently provide prison-related human services. Local organizations providing these services have been effectively written out of the County’s request-for-proposals. The only bidder: GEO Reentry Services.
This looming crisis is the result of a corrupt political system, and RepresentUs members are joining forces with local reform groups from across the political spectrum to address it head on.
Michael Hodgson, Chapter Leader of Represent Central Pennsylvania, is working in coalition with Jean Bickmire, of Have a Heart for People in the Criminal Justice System, Michelle Hines of Lancaster Stands Up, along with Lancaster Action Network NOW Coalition(LANC), Peace Action Network of Lancaster , Lancaster PA Friends Meeting (Quaker), ACLU-PA South Central Chapter, and local civil rights attorneys to combat corruption.
These groups vocally advocate against the privatization of local prison services, arguing that area nonprofits have effectively provided these services for decades. Now, they’re seeing budgets slashed as costs increase – and quality of services rapidly declining as control of local services shifts from public to private control.
Want to learn more about how you can get involved in fighting corruption? Join Pennsylvania Community Members for their upcoming emergency town hall.
The Bigger Picture: Private Prisons and Corruption
Private prisons bill themselves as a convenient way to cut costs – offering to save taxpayer dollars with private competition. In theory this is appealing – but who really benefits from private prisons?
Private prison companies – by definition – are privately run companies whose sole revenue stream is locking people up. They need to put people in jail in order to turn a profit, and these conglomerates have spent millions lobbying state and federal lawmakers to maintain the status quo growth of mass incarceration. In effect, they are buying political influence to actually change criminal laws – not because it makes the public safer, but because their entire profit model depends on it.
According to a 2016 Times report, that is why the two largest for-prison companies in the United States —the Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group invest heavily in lobbying for punitive criminal justice policies and make hefty contributions to political campaigns that will increase reliance on prisons. Since 1989, these two conglomerates alone have funneled more than $10 million to candidates, and have spent nearly $25 million on lobbying efforts.
A Washington Post editorial clearly points out the impact of all this money – these private companies have seen their revenue and market share soar. They now rake in a combined $3.3 billion in annual revenue and the private federal prison population more than doubled between 2000 and 2010, according to a report by the Justice Policy Institute.
Instead of writing policy that reduces rates of recidivism, or investing in programs that can support people in their return to society, we shift the costs to out of state, out of mind entities – a heavy burden on taxpayers. Research shows that the financial boosts and employment figures promised to taxpayers and state governments are often not as substantial as promised.
A 2016 study published by the Vera Institute of Justice shows that even though Pennsylvania’s Prison population has decreased -0.5%, prison spending has increased by 22.3%. In 2015, the PA prison population was 50,366 – at a cost of $42,727 per year per inmate, PA ranks as the 8th highest in inmate costs in the United States, totalling over 2 billion in one year alone.
Rising staff costs, cheap labor, and federal financial incentives makes locking people up a lucrative business. It’s up to all of us to work towards a better system that invests in an individual’s return to being an employed taxpayer, homeowner, and productive member of society – instead of relegating almost 25% of our population to remain perpetually behind bars.
Not only is it costly to incarcerate, it is even more expensive to fight the private prison industry that are effectively writing the laws they enforce – so local RepresentUs members are doing something about it.
Be sure to join them at their upcoming meeting to learn more about how you can get involved.