The Increasing Private Prison Industry

BACKGROUND: The place of Homeland Security's Tacoma Tideflats prison in the bigger picture
Written by Mark Jensen

Tuesday, 17 February 2004
Some pieces recently published in Prison Privatisation Report International suggest how the Homeland Security prison soon to opened in the Tacoma Tideflats and managed by a private company called the Correctional Services Corporation of Sarasota is part of a bigger picture....

By Mark Jensen

February 17, 2004

Below are a few pieces relating to the Homeland Security prison that will soon be opening in the Tacoma Tideflats, to be managed by the Correctional Services Corporation (CSC) of Sarasota, Florida. None of them mention the "Northwest Detention Center," as it is to be called, but they help set it in a larger context, and even suggest ways in which it is linked to the policies that led us into war in Iraq.

All these pieces were published in recent months in Prison Privatisation Report International (PPRI), which is published bi-monthly in England at the University of Greenwich with support from George Soros's Foundation Open Society Institute. PPRI is published by the Public Services International Research Unit, which monitors privatization of public services worldwide.

The pieces below from PPRI report:

-- that the U.S. government has ambitious plans for apprehending and deporting massive numbers of illegal aliens in the next five years[1];

-- that funds amounting to $10 million for sending U.S. private prison-building experts to Iraq for six months (at $100,000 per expert) were included in the Bush administration's late summer 2003 request for $20.3 billion toward rebuilding Iraq[2];

-- that Correctional Services Corp. (CSC) was ordered last year by a Texas court to pay $35 million plus $5.1 million in punitive damages in a case involving the death of an 18-year-old who fell ill but was denied treatment while in the corporation's care[3];

-- that CSC was being investigated by the New York State Board of Elections for providing unreported help to the campaigns of politicians in New York[4];

-- that in April 2003 Southern Catholic Bishops issued a statement calling for an end to all private prisons on the grounds that they are "not consistent with the need for our prisons to respect the human dignity of each and every person"[5];

-- that in early 2003 CSC was once again fined for over-contributing to politicians, this time being required to pay $300,000 in civil fine for failure to disclose gifts it made to New York politicians who helped the company obtain millions of dollars worth of business[6];

-- that a May 2002 Harvard Law Review article touting the virtues of private prisons turned out to have been indirectly funded by conservative libertarian think tanks[7];

-- and that a new organization dedicated to fighting prison privatization called "Citizens Against Private Prisons of North America (CAPP)" was formed in July 2002[8].




Prison Privatisation Report International
No. 59 (December 2003) States  

While states suffer from revenue shortfalls and some revise their corrections strategies away from incarceration (see FAMM report, page 14), private prison operators who need incarceration rates to grow can continue to seek solace from the federal government, (see PPRI # 58 & 38).

In September attorney general John Ashcroft ordered prosecutors to seek the most serious possible charges for almost all federal cases. More recently, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it wants additional prison bed space to hold up to 8,000 suspected illegal immigrants per day. The current detainee population is around 22,000 and security officials want to catch 400,000 of the supposed 8 million-11 million illegal immigrants in the US. The government aims to apprehend and deport all of them within five years.

According to the Houston Chronicle, 7 December 2003, Garrison Courtney of the Homeland Security’s Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement said: If we don’t have a place to keep them, they’re going to disappear and we will have to go look for them again.



Prison Privatisation Report International
No. 58 (October 2003) 

President Bush has included $10 million to finance 100 prison-building experts for six months at $100,000 per expert in his $20.3 billion budget request for reconstructing Iraq (see PPRI #56). The experts will be needed as also included is $400 million for two new 4,000 bed prisons at a cost of $50,000 per bed.

Meanwhile, the British government has asked group 4 Falck to participate in the rebuilding of Iraq’s prison sector. A Group 4 spokesperson told Politiken, 28 August 2003, that: We have no plans to actually operate prisons in Iraq. We will consult Iraqi prison personnel and provide relevant personnel training. Group 4 is already providing other security services in Iraq.



Prison Privatisation Report International
No. 58 (October 2003) STATES

Correctional Services Corporation (CSC) and a nurse formerly in its employ have been ordered by a Texas court to pay $35 million compensation plus a further $5.1 million in punitive damages to the parents and estate of Bryan Alexander (see PPRI # 55, 52, 45-42, 36, 30, 26, 24, etc ).

Eighteen-year-old Mr Alexander had been a prisoner at the company-run Tarrant County Community Correctional Facility in 2001. He died in hospital of a rare penicillin-resistant form of pneumonia on 9 January 2001, two days after being moved from the boot camp. Unless overturned on appeal CSC will be responsible for $26 million of the judgment while nurse Knyvett Reyes will have to pay $14.1million. The 370-bed boot camp was closed six months after Mr Alexander died.

The lawsuit brought by Mr Alexander’s family claimed that CSC and its nurse did not provide adequate and timely medical care. Ms Reyes testified that she treated Mr Alexander for a cold, flu and strep throat. Witnesses said that the nurse thought Mr Alexander was faking. The jury found that the nurse and CSC acted with malice in ignoring the prisoner’s pleas for help.

CSC had received $2.9 million a year to operate the boot camp. According to the family’s lawyer, Charlie Smith, This case was more like a homicide case than a wrongful-death lawsuit because of the way this young man died. Bryan’s family was hopeful that this jury would speak loud about the conduct of these defendants so it will not happen to another child in the same circumstances as Bryan Alexander.

According to an accountant who testified in court, recent financial reports filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission showed that CSC is worth more than $50.8 million. CSC’s lawyers stated that the company has about $35 million in insurance coverage. In this case, the plaintiffs are asking the jury to punish the company. If the jury punishes the company, they are probably going to be punishing the stock holders ... said Vic Anderson, a lawyer for CSC. The company is expected to appeal against the jury’s verdict.



Prison Privatisation Report International
No. 58 (October 2003) STATES

New York State Board of Elections has opened an investigation into whether Correctional Services Corporation (CSC) broke state law by providing unreported help to New York lawmakers. In February 2003 the company was fined $300,000 by the state Lobbying Commission for handing out expensive gifts to state lawmakers (see PPRI # 55, etc). In March 2003 the Board of Elections ordered CSC to obtain refunds from some New York lawmakers for over-contributions to campaigns. Between 1992 and 2000, CSC received $25.4 million from the state to provide halfway house services to the New York prison system.



Prison Privatisation Report International
No. 56 (June 2003) STATES

In April 2003, Southern Catholic Bishops called for an end to for profit prisons in the US. Set out below is an extract from their statement.

"We note with apprehension the rise of for-profit private prisons in the South and in the nation. The focus of this statement is the private prison industry. Recent reports by the U.S. Department of Justice indicate that prisons operated by private corporations house over 100,000 prisoners in our country.

"Private prisons have become more prevalent because our nation is putting growing numbers of people behind bars, governments are facing the rising costs of incarceration as with all public services, and there is increasing political pressure to privatise many government services.

"We are concerned about the rise in for-profit private prisons because previous attempts to introduce the profit motive into prisons have failed to respect the fundamental human dignity of every prisoner.

"We recognise the fundamental human dignity of prisoners and are troubled by the documented level of violence against prisoners in private prisons.

"We recognise the inherent dignity of labor and are troubled by the working conditions and wages of those entrusted with the care of prisoners in private facilities.

"In order to reduce costs and maximise profits, private prisons redistribute their operational costs, with less money going to those employees who work directly with prisoners and more to executives and shareholders. We do not agree that paying private prison staff lower wages than public employees receive, or cutting their numbers, advances the common good or just treatment of prisoners.

"We note that some state and local governments have canceled private prison contracts because of insufficient staff and mismanagement.

"We question whether private prisons have the incentive to assist people not to return to prison. In addition to removing people from the community for the safety of the community, one of the stated purposes of prison is to prepare the people who are in prison for reintegration into the community once their sentences have been served.

"Almost everyone in prison is re-entering our communities at some point. We are concerned that cutting staff and reducing wages in order to protect profit margins is in conflict with the need to respect and rehabilitate prisoners. We are even more deeply troubled that the private prison industry has actively supported institutions that lobby for harsher sentencing laws, which increase the prison population.

"Since it appears that private prisons are not consistent with the need for our prisons to respect the human dignity of each and every person, we call for an end to all for-profit private prisons.

"The trend towards more and more people being held in private prisons should be reversed immediately. We call on all levels of government to refuse to sign new contracts or to renew expiring ones with private prison corporations.

"As long as private prisons continue to exist, they need to be held fully accountable. While private prisons continue, there needs to be independent, thorough, and systematic oversight of their operation by government.

"Our region and our nation must change the policies that are putting so many of our people in prison. Imprisonment for profit would not have arisen again if our nation's prison population had not been expanded so radically. While the U.S. now leads the entire world in rate of incarceration, our southern states lead the nation. The seven states with the highest incarceration rates are in the South. Sentencing must be reformed and alternative sentences employed so that justice rather than profit is served."

Contact: NC Catholic, Email: 



Prison Privatisation Report International
No. 55 (May 2003) STATES

Correctional Service Corporation (CSC) has agreed to pay a $300,000 civil fine for failure to disclose gifts it made to New York politicians who helped the company obtain millions of dollars worth of business (see PPRI #52, 45-42, 36, 30, 36, 24, 21, 14 & 3). However, the company did not admit to breaking the law and, while disagreeing with some of the Lobbying Commission’s findings, agreed to settle. The fine was a record for the state Lobbying Commission. CSC was also ordered by New York’s state board of elections to seek refunds on political contributions it made in 2002. State law forbids companies from giving more than $5,000 per annum to campaign committees. But in 2002 CSC gave at least $7,500 to such committees. In 1997 CSC was also cited for over-contributing.



Prison Privatisation Report International
No. 50 (October 2002) STATES

The Association of Private Corrections and Treatment Organisations (APCTO) represents the private prison industry (see PPRI # 46-44, 40 & 37). In July 2002 APCTO issued a statement referring to the Harvard Law Review (HLR) as an internationally respected source for sound legal and policy analysis. This accolade was prompted by the inclusion of an article, "Tale of Two Systems: Cost, Quality and Accountability in Private Prisons" by Alexander Volokh (see below) in the May 2002 issue of HLR which was devoted to prison law. The issue was written and edited by students.

The author of "Two Systems" states that, for the purposes of his article, he takes prison privatisation as ethically neutral. He asks whether political influence peddling weakens or strengthens the case for privatisation and answers it with the assertion that it depends on whether corruption by corporations is worse than patronage of public prison guard unions -- a question that calls for further research. On the question of cost and quality comparisons he argues that what imperfect empirical evidence there is suggests that private prisons cost less than public prisons and that their quality is no worse. In short despite all their possible faults, private prisons are a promising avenue for the future development of the prison system.

APCTO’s chief executive, Steve Logan, stated in a media release that we view the HLR article as a meaningful report for this industry, recommending it to US state and government officials as a sound external study on the benefits of the public-private partnership in corrections.

However, Michele Deitch, a lawyer with the Centre for Criminal Justice Initiatives in Austin, Texas, offers another view. Writing in the Correctional Law Reporter she says: The journal’s visibility means that prison law might appear on the radar screen of many lawyers, judges and academics who previously had little or no knowledge about the field. That’s the good news: the bad news is that they are relying on inexperienced students to educate them about these issues.

Ms Deitch reviews the whole issue of HLR but has the strongest reservations about the private prisons section, which, she argues reads like a lobbying piece for the private prison industry and which was explicitly influenced by the Reason Foundation, a free market think tank that advocates privatisation in this area. Little law is actually covered in the discussion ... which cites extensively from industry-supported studies to argue that private prisons are in fact more cost effective and accountable than public institutions.

She adds: There is no evidence that the author approached corrections officials for their points of view, nor did the author discuss issues such as the frequent practice of reducing costs by deliberately under staffing private facilities. Moreover, the author ... misses a key policy point when reviewing case studies: because private operators can pick and choose the ‘cream of the crop’ inmates, who are necessarily less expensive to house, they effectively drive up the prices of the comparison group of public institutions, which are left with higher-security and more medically needy inmate population. Thus many of these studies are comparing apples and oranges.

In her review Ms Deitch also counters the author’s argument that the market keeps private prisons accountable by allowing governments to rescind contracts as necessary. The author ignores the reality of the crises that typically lead to contracts with private providers, leaving corrections officials with little leverage in contract negotiations. She concludes: one wishes that this part of the article could have been as objective as the other sections.

--The author of "Tale of Two Systems: Cost, Quality and Accountability in Private Prisons" is Alexander Volokh. Mr Volokh is not a student but an assistant policy analyst who specialises in environmental policy for the Reason Public Policy Institute (RPPI). His qualifications for writing about prison privatisation are listed on the RPPI website. Mr Volokh’s expertise includes hazardous waste policy, environmental economics, regulation, risk assessment, solid waste management, and the tort system.

--The aim of Reason’s Competitive Corrections Research Project is to explore the role of the private sector in corrections, evaluate the benefits of competition and privatisation, educate the public, government officials and the media on private corrections issues and provide practical, nuts-and-bolts policy advice to elected officials.

--The Reason Foundation was formed in 1978 and refers to itself as a national non-partisan research organisation. It develops ideas for increased private sector involvement at the state and local levels. It is so non-partisan that George W. Bush nominated Lynn Scarlett, Reason’s president, as secretary of policy, management and budget of the US department of the interior.

According to NIRA’s World Directory of Think Tanks, Reason’s funding in 1998 comprised: 27 per cent private donations; 25 per cent publication sales; 20 per cent corporate donations; and 15 per cent from US foundations. Its budget was $5.4 million. Media Transparency’s website reveals that this ‘conservative libertarian think tank’ received 97 foundation grants with a value of $4.5 million between 1985 and 2000, the main donors being: the Linda and Harry Bradley Foundation Inc; David H.Koch Charitable Foundation; Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation; Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation; Scaife Family Foundation; Smith Richardson Foundation; John M. Olin Foundation and the Carthage Foundation.

Harvard Law Review, May 2002, 

Correctional Law Reporter, August/September 2002, 

Reason Public Policy Institute, 



Prison Privatisation Report International
No. 49 (August-September 2002) States

A new coalition opposed to prison privatisation has been formed in the US. Citizens Against Private Prisons of North America (CAPP) was formed from an initiative in July 2002 by Corrections USA (CUSA) and the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.

Ken Kopczynski of the Florida Police Benevolent Association (FPBA) is CAPP’s chairperson. Announcing CAPP’s launch on 2 August 2002 he said: This is a historic moment in the battle for public safety and against yet another industry whose only motivation is profit. Incarceration for profit has been, and always will be, a bad idea. The expertise and commitment of the members of CAPP is unsurpassed. CAPP claims that it will organise local communities, educate decision makers and debate the for-profit prison industry wherever and whenever the corporations attempt to get new contracts. CAPP will also work to dismantle the private prison industry wherever and whenever it can.

Last Updated ( Sunday, 22 February 2004)