For some context on private prisons:
The private incarceration business remains a relatively small (though powerful) interest, housing about 7 percent of state prisoners and slightly more than 16 percent of federal ones. The numbers and percentages took off in the 1990s with tougher laws and federal subsidies for state prisons before entering a business-model and scandal-fueled tailspin late in the decade. They picked up again and increased by more than a third in state prisons during the 2000s, with even greater growth on the federal side thanks to immigration enforcement after 9/11. The two largest companies, the Corrections Corporation of America and the Geo Group, reported combined revenues of $2.9 billion in 2010. The CCA houses about 80,000 prisoners. Of the more than 60 facilities it operates, it owns 44.Business may be at risk for these companies, though, because states are wising up and downsizing their prison populations for the first time in decades through smart, cost-effective reforms like alternatives to incarceration, high-intensity supervision (like Hawaii's HOPE program), and better back-end management of probation and supervised release. That risk of shrinking business may be what inspired CCA's recent decision to require that states it contracts with keep the privately-run prisons at 90% of capacity. In other words: Fill the beds, or forgeddaboudit. This dubious contract term asks states who want to use private prisons to maintain a steady flow of prisoners -- exactly what most states cannot afford right now.
The good news is that states may not be taking the bait. Taxpayers, prisoners, and communities stand to benefit from better sentencing and supervision solutions -- and there is a growing movement of conservatives that agree. We don't need to have the world's biggest prison population and harshest sentences to stay safe -- what we really need is the smartest, most humane system.
Maybe, just maybe, we're doing what Great Britain did in the early-to-mid 1800s: realizing that we can't incarcerate our way out of our crime problems (which, by the way, are historically small right now). FAMM has never opposed prison time for people who need and deserve it, but we offer this parting thought from the article on our general over-use of incarceration as something to mull over this weekend:
Prisons account, on average, for 88 percent of state corrections budgets. Prisons have become expensive warehouses where all that matters is time served. One result has been to produce, on average, even more hardened criminals as nonviolent offenders turn into violent ones, especially when returned to the streets abruptly and with little or no training, counseling or bonds to the community.You tell us: does that sound effective, cost-saving, sustainable, safe, or humane?