Christian Broadcasting Network highlights problems with the for-profit prison model

By Frank Knaack – Originally posted on Texas Prison Bid’ness
Associate Director of Public Policy and Advocacy

Last month, the Christian Broadcasting Network published an article that covered serious concerns with the for-profit prison industry.  While the issues CBN raises are nothing new to regular Texas Prison Bid’ness readers, we are excited to see that the diversity of groups raising these concerns continues to grow.  Here’s an excerpt:

Critics complain that private prisons cut corners on salaries, guard training, inmate medical care, and facility maintenance to add to their bottom lines. ”The model as a whole has not had a happy history,” Dr. Fran Buntman, a criminologist at George Washington University, said.

In her opinion, for-profit companies should not be in the business of locking up criminals.

“Ethically we need to deal with the fact that when we have chosen to put people in prison, we’ve taken away from their liberty rights to control their own lives,” Buntman said. ”We as a society and the government as the institution looking after them have a responsibility to their welfare,” she continued. “We cannot subcontract out that responsibility to a private agency.”

For critics of the industry, their fears materialized a few months ago when CCA proposed a $250 million deal to 48 states. The company would buy state prisons and manage them if the states would guarantee a 90 percent occupancy rate.  [For TPB’s coverage of this offer click here.]

“What’s more important? People or money?” John Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute, asked.  ”I’m not saying corporations are evil, but corporations exist for one reason, to make money, maximum profit,” he continued. “That’s okay if you’re making widgets or toothpaste, but when you’re dealing with people and you’re making money off of people — you’re starting to treat people like they’re toothpaste and you’re making money off of them and I think that’s way we’re headed.

“We’re de-personalizing people in this country and I think that we’re heading to a country where people are going to be treated like they’re products,” he said.

To make matters worse for the for-profit prison industry, this is not the first time this year that CBN affiliated individuals raised issues that could negatively impact the industry’s profits.  In March, CBN founder Pat Robertson came out in favor of legalizing marijuana.  How could this harm the for-profit prison industry?  Well, approximately 46% of drug prosecutions (858,408 in 2009) are for marijuana – and that adds up to a lot of prison beds!  And, the for-profit prison industry has lobbied for draconian drug laws that rely on incarceration rather than evidence-based solutions such as treatment programs.

How can the for-profit prison industry both maximize shareholder profit and ensure public safety, human rights, and fiscal responsibility?  As the industry’s actions indicate, the answer is – they can’t!  We hope that CBN continues to highlight this clear conflict of interest.

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