3 Months in Juvie For a MySpace Joke? How the For-Profit Prison Industry Locks Up More People Each Year
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A June 2004 study by academics Curtis R. Blakely and Vic W. Bumphus found that private prison turnover among correctional officers was 43 percent, while turnover in public sector prisons were only 15 percent. Turnover in for-profit prisons was linked to lower staff pay and less training. Moreover, the study found, "Pay, training, and turnover may all contribute to the higher levels of violence seen in the private sector."
One big area where for-profit prison firms skimp is on labor costs, according to Wright. "While employees at state-run prisons get union-scale salaries, private-prison guards typically earn $7 to $10 per hour," he says, adding, "They have low wages and high turnover and very little in the way of benefits or training."
Wright, 43, was once a prisoner himself, serving 17 years of a 25-year term for killing a cocaine dealer he was trying to rob. Today, he is an advocate for prisoner rights and, over the years, has filed numerous legal challenges against the industry and won.
"The private-prison industry is marked by corruption," he says. "Their premise is they can run prisons cheaper than the government, but taxpayers don't realize any of those savings. Any savings the private-prison industry obtains is basically profits for their shareholders."
For-profit prisons are private corporations and, thus, not subject to external oversight. They are not obligated to produce their internal records for public scrutiny and are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act at the federal level because that law applies only to documents in the government's possession.
Political pressure from interests in US border states has forced President Obama to exceed the record of former President George W. Bush in deporting illegal aliens. That surge has resulted in a windfall for the private prison industry. Today, a substantial slice of its current growth can be attributed to its activities in the immigration detention field.
Private prisons have become a major influence in shaping critical legislation related to illegal immigration. The industry's lobbyists have played a leading role in drafting a number of recent anti-immigrant laws, for example, Arizona's SB-1070, and similar laws in Georgia, Alabama, and other states.
Under the Alabama measure, police must detain someone they suspect of being in the country illegally if the person cannot produce proper documentation when stopped for any reason. It also will be a crime to knowingly transport or harbor someone who is in the country illegally. The law imposes penalties on businesses that knowingly employ someone without legal resident status. A company's business license could be suspended or revoked. And the law requires Alabama businesses to use a database called E-Verify to confirm the immigration status of new employees.
Lee Fang reports in ThinkProgress that, in December 2009, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) - a powerful front group that helps corporate representatives craft template legislation for state lawmakers, funded partially by the private prison industry - hosted Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce (R) and began debate on legislation that would provide broad powers to local police to arrest anyone who might look like an immigrant. The ALEC then distributed the template legislation to its members. The January/February 2010 edition of ALEC's magazine highlights the draft version of SB1070 - the "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act" - as model legislation.
It was Pearce who introduced ALEC's "template" as the infamous SB1070 law. Notably, the ALEC task force, which helped Pearce devise his racial profiling law, included Laurie Shanblum, a CCA lobbyist. CCA previously played an important role in privatizing many of Texas' prisons.