Companies that run prisons show their true colors and conflict of interest

A recent news story on Truthout starts off with a few sobering facts–and then goes straight to the heart of the matter. The two biggest prison companies in the US–The GEO Group (formerly known as Wackenhut) and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA)–are hard at work to keep people going to prison in the name of their own bottom line.

This despite the fact the US already leads the world in the number of its own citizens that are imprisoned. I’m not even going to quote the article here (but I encourage you to read it), as this isn’t even about a specific news article but about common sense.

Until reading about this, I was sort of on the fence about privatizing prisons. Now, I see what should have been obvious from the beginning: that it’s more or less the same can of worms opened up when any former government service is privatized, and the motive to make profit has destructive tendencies nearly impossible to see at first glance.

There are at least two ways I can see to solve this problem.

The more obvious one by far is for the government’s penal authorities to take back the prisons and kick GEO Group and CCA to the curb. This would certainly solve the immediate problem, but it might result in a few angry stockholders at those two companies (and any other private prison companies not mentioned in the story).

The other one would more likely keep the companies happy, but require a radical change in how they operate. Right now, the prison companies’ profits are purely a result of how many people are in prison (i.e. “full beds”). So if the prisons are full and more have to be built every year, this is great for them, but arguably, it isn’t very good for society at large. So why not pay these companies to have a role to keep people out of prison, and make it more profitable long term for them to keep people in the free world? Is there a way to do this that doesn’t amount to just giving these companies a handout? It’s a bit like oil companies reinventing themselves as energy companies.

Maybe it’s doomed to not work, and we should just get the private sector out of prison security entirely. But I figured I’d float it as an alternative.