America's for-profit prisons: Greed over justice

Can Americans still claim to live in the land of the free when so many are unfairly incarcerated solely for profit? Photo: The Lake Erie Correctional Institution was purchased from Ohio by Corrections Corporation of America/AP

LOS ANGELES, December 4, 2013 — Today, in the U.S., there are privately owned for-profit prisons that contractually require states to maintain a certain number of prisoners. If prison populations fall below the agreed upon quota, there are fines the states have to pay to these prison corporations.

There is something terribly wrong with America. 

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You can even invest in for-profit prison corporations, or the partnership corrections industry, as they prefer to be called.

One such company is Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA for short, which is traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol CXW. Started in 1983, the Corrections Corporation of America was the first for-profit prison company.

The more prisoners a facility holds, the more profitable the corporation is. That is good for stockholders, but not for the rest of the citizens of America.

In their 2010 annual report, CCA wrote, “Historically, we have been successful in substantially filling our inventory of available beds and the beds that we have constructed. Filling these available beds would provide substantial growth in revenues, cash flow, and earnings per share.”

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One company was so desperate to keep their prison populations high that it was willing to bribe two Pennsylvania judges to do so. Mark Ciavarella Jr. and Michael Conahan were sentencing children without proper representation to harsh penalties for petty crimes while receiving kick-backs from the prison corporation for their efforts.

In 2011, Mark Ciavarella Jr. was sentenced to 28 years and made to pay a $1.2 million restitution after it was found out that he accepted more than $2 million in bribes from Robert Powell and Robert Mericle who built and owned, respectively, the PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care detention centers. Michael Conahan, received 17 and a half years for charges stemming from the bribes.

Robert Powell was sentenced to 18 months in prison for not reporting a felony. Powell was released earlier this year in April and is trying to delay the trial in a civil suit against him. Robert Mericle is still awaiting sentencing pending the results of an unrelated corruption case involving Pennsylvania State Senator Raphael Musto. Mericle has settled a civil lawsuit with the victims and their families for $17.5 million.

The true tragedy is the cost to the prisoners. These are actual human beings, most often not white, who are being preyed on by people in the more affluent sectors of American society. Lives are ruined every day so that stockholders can enjoy a better return on their investment.

The goal of any civilized society, albeit lofty, should be to have a population free of crime and thus, empty prisons. The prison system is supposed to be set up not only to punish people who break the law, but also ultimately to rehabilitate these same people and return them to society as productive citizens.

The problem, however, is that there is no money in freeing prisoners for these corporations. They do not get any more funding for successfully rehabilitating and releasing prisoners.

Through lobbyists, CCA and other private prison corporations, according to, have contributed to a number of laws aimed at arresting more people and keeping them incarcerated for longer periods of time, such as mandatory minimum sentencing, drug offenses and immigration violations.

In its 2010 annual report, CCA wrote, “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws.”

According to The Sentencing Project, when CCA was founded in 1983, there were about 400,000 people in prison in America for various crimes. By 2012, that number had risen to more than 1.5 million people. In 1985, states were spending $6.7 billion on housing inmates. By 2010, states were paying $53.3 billion.

In 1980, there were 41,000 drug offenders in state and federal prisons and jails. In 2011, there were 499,000 drug offenders behind bars. In 1986, people were spending about 22 months in prison on drug charges, but by 2004, that number had grown to an average of 62 months behind bars.

Kentucky decided in 2008 to end its partnership with Corrections Corporation of America. Earlier this year, the state moved the last of its prisoners from prisons owned by CCA, effectively ending CCA’s presence in the state.

In CCA’s 2013 letter to shareholders, Chairman of the Board John D. Ferguson and President/CEO Damon T. Hininger wrote, “We had approximately 14,000 bought-and-paid-for available beds in inventory as we entered 2013 that we expect to provide additional growth opportunities in the coming years.”

Where some people may see rising crime statistics as a stain upon the nation, the for-profit prison industry sees them as, “additional growth opportunities.”

To quote the Metallica song, And Justice For All, “Justice is lost. Justice is raped. Justice is gone.”

Kevin J. Wells is the Sports Editor for The Washington Times Communities and also writes about Major League Baseball and punk rock music. Follow him on Twitter @WellsOnBaseball

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Kevin J Wells

Kevin J. Wells was born and raised in the Los Angeles area in a town called Montrose.  He currently plays guitar for and is a founding member of the Los Angeles punk rock band Emmer Effer.  He has worked in a number of different career fields including Behavioral Therapy, Commodities, Insurance, and most recently a food cart in Portland, OR. Kevin has been both a sports and entertainment columnist and editor for The Washington Times Communities since January 2013.

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