In the United States, there are two basic types of prisons. Those that are run by the government, and those that are run by private corporations. The latter, often referred to as “for-profit” prisons, have become extremely common nationwide, with nearly 50% of all prison inmates in private prisons. If this sounds at all sketchy, it is because it is. Private prisons undermine the entire point of the criminal justice system, and moves should be made to ban them nationwide.
One of the key reasons for-profit prisons should be banned in the US is that the living conditions are often subpar. After all, because the ultimate goal of these prisons is to turn a profit, costs will be cut wherever they can. Additionally, because the welfare of the inmates is not a major priority, egregious incidents are more likely to occur. A private prison in Idaho developed a reputation as a “Gladiator School” after reports emerged that prison guards actively encouraged fights between inmates. When the sole focus is on profits, incidents like this are much more likely to occur. Heavier regulation of for-profit prisons defeats the purpose, and so the only reasonable course of action to stop it is to ban them outright.
This focus on profits also defeats one of the key goals of any justice system: Rehabilitation. The United States justice system already emphasizes this element less than some other countries, and for-profit prisons actively hinder that objective. One private prison in Texas was investigated for diverting $700,000 from a drug-treatment program, leaving the inmates with substance-abuse problems with no treatment at all. If for-profit prisons are unable to adequately fulfill their obligation to help rehabilitate inmates, then they should be shut down.
Finally, the existence of for-profit prisons inherently corrupts the entire criminal justice system. Lobbying from companies running private prisons will help ensure stricter laws and regulations, regardless of whether those tighter laws are actually better for the cities and states they apply to. It also dirties the judicial system itself. One needs look to further than the Kids for cash scandal from 2008, where it was proven that two judges were accepting money in exchange for sentencing minors to juvenile detention centers. This should not be tolerated. Any system that could even allow for something like that to happen should be reworked, and as long as for-profit prisons exist, it will always be possible.
Lobbyists for for-profit prisons will argue that it for-profit prisons are cheaper than those that are state-run. Even if that is true – and the data on it is far from conclusive – the drawbacks far outweigh any possible benefits. For-profit prisons defeat the entire point of a criminal justice system, and the fact that they even exist at all reeks of Orwell’s 1984. The United States should immediately push to ban for-profit prisons nationwide.