By Frank Knaack (Originally posted on Texas Prison Bid’ness)
Associate Director of Public Policy and Advocacy
Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is offering a heck of a deal to states across America. As the Huffington Post (“Private Prison Corporation Offers Cash In Exchange For State Prisons,” February 14) reported last week, in exchange for a 20 year management contract and guarantee that the prison will remain at least 90% full, CCA will buy your prison. Sounds almost too good to be true … well, that’s because it is. While the deal may be bad for states, it is actually great for those of us who oppose the for-profit prison industry. It highlights one of the fundamental flaws of the for-profit prison model: the need to maintain high numbers of incarcerated individuals regardless of the impact on our tax base and our communities.
With skyrocketing corrections budgets, lawmakers in states across the country have reassessed their criminal justice systems. Like in Liberty County, these lawmakers have found that over-incarceration is both extremely expensive and counterproductive to the goal of protecting public safety. Instead of locking people up for low level, non-violent offenses, like drug possession, lawmakers have turned to evidence-based approaches to addressing the issue. As the ACLU pointed out, the results of this reassessment for Texas have been extremely positive. “Since 2003, the Texas Legislature has passed a number of bills aimed at reducing the number of individuals incarcerated for nonviolent offenses, including drug offenses. Instead of building new and costly prisons, the legislature has increased the use of probation and provided increased funding for nonviolent offenders to attend residential and nonresidential treatment programs. And, as the numbers show, concerns about any coinciding decrease in public safety are unfounded: as Right on Crime pointed out, ‘serious property, violent, and sex crimes per 100,000 Texas residents have declined 12.8 percent since 2003.’” Oh, and these smart on crime reforms have also saved the state more than two billion dollars.
But, as the saying goes (to the for-profit prison industry) … two billion dollars saved by taxpayers is two billion dollars not earned by the for-profit prison industry, thus CCA’s need for its very own mandatory minimum. If Texas were to accept CCA’s offer, it would have two options: (1) undermine its smart on crime reforms or (2) maintain its reforms and pay CCA to maintain empty cells. Taxpayers lose either way. We thank CCA for highlighting this fundamental flaw.