Private prisons place politics and profits over people

The decision by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind the Obama Administration’s plan to phase out the use of for-profit private prisons is a signal that this administration cares more about companies’ profits than people.

Since its inception in the 1980s the private prison industry has been at the forefront of claiming to be a better, lower cost, and more efficient alternative for governments to manage prisons and jails across the country. 

{mosads}However, over three decades private prison contracts have shown the opposite. The for-profit private prison industry has been fraught with numerous allegations and lawsuits detailing abuse and neglect, poor working conditions for their employees, and inconclusive reports on their ability to save money for the government.


The mounting evidence of the overall ineffectiveness of for-profit private prisons is the reason the Obama Administration made the decision to phase out their use by the federal government.

But as the Justice Policy Institute chronicled in the report Gaming the System, for-profit private prison companies have been successful for over the last 30 years by being willing to play the game of “pay for play” politics. 

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, political action committee contributions to federal candidates from for-profit private prison companies CoreCivic (formerly CCA), GEO Group, and Management and Training Corp. totaled over $476,000 in the 2016 federal election cycle, with just over $406,000 going to Republican candidates. In addition, the GEO Group’s PAC gave $215,000 to the Trump Victory PAC.

We shouldn’t be surprised that on the day after Trump’s victory, CoreCivic’s stock price increased 43 percent and GEO’s went up 21 percent. Since November, both companies stock prices have gone up more than 100 percent since Election Day.

Not only have GEO and CoreCivic focused on winning favor among policy makers by helping to get them elected, but combined they spent over $2 million dollars in 2016 to lobby Congress to promote their interests. 

Specifically targeting their lobbying efforts towards issues around homeland security, immigration, law enforcement and crime, and federal appropriations.

Over the last decade in the midst of a louder call for criminal justice reforms, CoreCivic and GEO, have been strategically enhancing their business interests through diversification. 

Not only have they spent significant time and resources becoming the go to for constructing and managing immigration detention centers for the federal government, but they have focused on expanding into such areas as electronic monitoring, prison transportation, and reentry and rehabilitation services.

Instead of investing in for-profit private prisons and increasing revenue for their companies and shareholders, President Trump, his administration and all elected representatives should ensure our tax dollars are used to make the right investments in communities and people. That means not wasting tax dollars on a reactionary approach to public safety that negatively impacts families and communities.

Instead, we should be investing resources in communities to enhance overall wellbeing and reduce the likelihood of justice system involvement. This means devoting resources to supporting education, workforce development, and access to mental health and substance abuse treatment, particularly in areas hit hardest by violent crime. 

These are the types of investments that we already know will help reduce the number of people ending up in prison in the first place and help create safer communities. And for the declining number of people who will be incarcerated moving forward, we should be ensuring that government do its job and provide safe, humane and rehabilitative treatment, instead of turning this responsibility over to companies whose primary motivation is profit.

While for-profit private prisons are a relatively small piece of the pie of mass incarceration, their presence and use creates a countervailing interest to public safety and justice that must be addressed in order to see lasting and sustained reductions in our justice system. 

Because one thing is for certain, in this political game, for-profit private prison companies will look out for their own interests above that of public safety and community wellbeing.

Marc Schindler is the executive director of the Justice Policy Institute. Paul Ashton, is the author of “Gaming the System” and serves as development and finance manager at the Justice Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Crime Criminal justice reform Donald Trump Jeff Sessions Lobbying Obama prisons private prisons Sessions

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video