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Each society consists of a number of fundamental institutions that perform different functions and regulate important aspects of public life. The most common of them are united at the domains of legislative, executive and judiciary power as a form of these branches at a specific administrative level. Corrections are an important part of a judicial branch of power because they regulate the sphere of a legal punishment performed by the state against individuals, who break the law. Despite this issue is obscure for the predominant part of people, owning corrections on a public basis is a specific economic and administrative load on the state. Among the aspects that require regulation are budgetary concerns, safety and labor issues, management, accountability, oversight and other, which is why some states agreed having privately owned correction facilities.
The availability of this option led to wide discussions in the society because traditionally the state granted social security, safety and financial stability of its prisons. At the same time, the corporations that own private prisons claim that their correction facilities are safer, more secure and have increased financial stability when compared to public prisons. This paper analyzes both claims and the supporting evidence aiming at the assessment of the viability of current, exclusively publicly financed and supported prison facilities and, alternatively, privately owned prisons. The performed investigation allows stating that numerous violations of human rights and problems with accountability, safety, oversight and cost-efficacy should lead to the termination of privately owned prisons. Such analysis allows predicting the future of corrections as being the entire domain of the state assuring civil and constitutional rights of the inmates.
Historical Obstacles for Privately Owned Corrections
The historical process associated with the evolvement and the following impediments to functioning of privately owned correction facilities is tightly intertwined with their publicly owned counterparts. Thus, scholars claim that despite privately owned corrections have a long history they came into the public eye in the mid-1980s, when some of the states had persistently growing problems with running their prisons. Among the typical problems of that time was lack of financing, qualified personnel, exceeding quantity of inmates and other. For example, a crisis in California’s prison system is associated with the need for reducing overcrowding to 137.5% within two years. These problems raised the interest of Correction Corporations of America (CCA) as one of the country’s players of the correction business. It offered to lease the entire prison system of state of Tennessee for 99 years for $250 million assuring that it would mitigate the problems with standardizing.
Despite the state officials refused supporting this initiative, the case obtained tremendous interest from the press, which is why it was a chance for CCA to show its efficacy. At that time, the company owned a juvenile detention center in Tennessee and attempts obtaining different state’s prisons claiming that its modern technologies would make them better. As a result of campaigns performed by CCA, Wackenhut Corrections Corporation later labeled as GEO Group and other corporations, mid-90’s became a period of a boom of private corrections. From the one hand, the country’s state and federal prisons had a chance of getting better and solving their problems. However, the historical analysis shows that starting from 1998 the public starts heavily criticizing the owners of private prisons after a series of shocking events including escapes, stabbings and killings. As a result, CCA stock experiences a gigantic fall together with the popularity of the whole private prison industry. Leaders of CCA and GEO attempted to save their business and restructured it supporting its existence with lobbyist activity. Gradual success in this field leads to the fact that CCA buys Ohio's Lake Erie Correctional Institution in 2011 becoming the first company to purchase a state facility. However, warning present-day statistics of problems including safety, accountability, and human rights violation, policy lobbying and other issues lead to the fact that the prospective of this business is extremely doubtful.
Safety, Staffing and Cost Efficacy Issues
One of the claims of private organizations aiming at owning prisons that initially obtained public support was that they may unite safety and cost efficacy. For instance, the officials running CCA stated in 1986 that it is possible to own prisons “with less staff than the public sector would have needed”. In order to avoid possible security issues associated with this initiative, the company highlighted a perspective of using electronic surveillance systems and advanced facility design. However, the analysis of the relevant evidence allows stating that the owners of private prisons failed to meet these goals despite controversial statistic evidence. For example, a 2005 study performed by the Bureau of Prisons argued that “being an inmate at the private prison seemed to reduce the probability of violent misconduct”. At the same time, more recent research of 2012 performed in Mississippi revealed that in privately-found corrections the assault rates are three to five times higher than at their public counterparts. Basically, accident ratio is one of the factors that brought public attention to the fact that privately owned prisons experience critical problems leading to the deterioration of their safety. A vivid example of this is the case of 1998 when the Justice Department initiated a revision of a prison in Youngstown, Ohio, owned by CCA, after a series of accidents including escapes and killings. Consequently, this initiative exposed the facts that privately owned prisons of the state had poorly trained guards lacking experience and had their maximum-security inmates at facilities designed for a medium-security population. Thus, the actual efficacy of privately owned correction facilities turns out to be doubtful despite the opposite claims of the companies owning the industry.
Furthermore, it should be stated that along with the failure to increase safety measures, privately owned corrections are not that cost efficient as expected. Basically, a cost saving issue is one of the most critical aspects turning more than 30 states to the support of initiative of having private corrections. However, the actual examples demonstrate that the expectations of the responsible private corporations and the local and federal government were too high. For example, in Arizona, despite a state law that obliges private prisons being more cost efficient, they fail meeting the requirements spending about $1,600 more than public prisons per year. At the same time, more thorough investigations revealed a surprising fact that private corrections aim at having prisoners associated with fewer expenses. Among such aspects is offering housing to relatively healthy inmates leaving their sick counterparts for state owned facilities. In this respect, State Representative Chad Campbell criticized this polity calling it “cherry picking” that leaves the most expensive prisoners with taxpayers. Along with it, different companies introduce additional initiatives allowing them being more const-efficient when pressuring their staff. For instance, Simmons argues that private employees pay their employees less, introduce reduced const lunches for their children and giving worse compensation package. Analyzing this data one comes to a conclusion that despite having specific financial troubles, state owned prisons demonstrate better attitude employees remaining stably cost-effective because of the need for meeting federal regulations. At the same time, there are claims that the owners of private prisons treat unjust not only their workers but the prisoners as well, which poses a constitutional threat because of violation of human rights.
Human Rights Violation, Labor and other Constitutional Issues
The fact that privately owned prisons are business enterprises led to the situation when human and constitutional rights of the inmates were often violated. This information became public after a series of cases of riots and strikes of the prisoners caused by unjust attitude of the guards and administration. One of the official documents approving drastic situation in privately owned prisons is a Justice Department report released in 2004. This document claimed that a series of inspections at the Cheltenham Youth Facility and the Charles H. Hickey, Jr. School revealed a series of violations of fundamental human rights. One of the most common claims in this respect was physical abuse of the guards towards inmates and violence among them. As a result, scholars claim about the issue of underreporting of the events occurring at privately owned prisons.
It is evident that such policy was directed towards the support of a positive public characteristic of private prisons. However, the real-life statistics included also a violation of labor rights and the rights for medical care. For example, Friedman and Parenti discuss the case of Malesko, when an individual sentenced to a privately-owned prison was not given a heart medication refill. Moreover, some of the guards prohibited him using the elevator, which caused a heart-attack after he tried climbing the stairs to reach his floor. When Malesko initiated a lawsuit against a corporation, its layer’s claimed that it was not a subject to suit for any constitutional violations as the US government. This case demonstrates that the state legal system has weak legal ties with privately owned corrections, which abuse their position of being the substitutes for the state-owned prisons.
Another issue that negatively characterizes privately owned corrections is the abuse of labor of inmates. Being business enterprises, they basically use inmates as slaves obtaining money for each prisoner and using them as a workforce busy with a low-wage labor. Despite the actual cost of labor might be higher, the prisoner’s right for labor is violated because they may receive the least possible wages at the market. Moreover, some prisons introduced extensively brutal methods of restrain causing injuries of inmates. For example, in one of the prisons in California the use of leg shackles while pregnant women were in labor increased adverse health conditions to mother and child. In this respect, one of the private prisons in Idaho became known as a “gladiator school” because its guards practiced “degradation, humiliation, and subjugation of prisoners”. Therefore, having no choice of defending their rights the inmates of privately owned corrections initiated riots and assaults for making their claims known to public. As a consequence, it is important to discuss the problems of accountability of privately owned correction facilities, which are not present in their publicly owned counterparts.
Accountability and Oversight Issues and the Future of Private Corrections
The aspects of accountability and the future position of private corrections in the framework of a judicial system raised numerous doubts both of the public and the officials. The initial result of these doubts was the refusal of the states from the first attempts of selling and leasing their prisons. However, further support of the initiative and various associated cases against privately owned corrections indicated at the presence of critical mistakes related to accountability. In general, scholars claim that despite private companies serve as substitutes of the state organs it is difficult to grant their accountability because of secrecy and the absence of legal regulations. As a consequence, it is difficult for the state organs to oversight facilities that may not release their information because of the need for privacy in business.
At the same time, the controversy of this issue is the fact that in the case business substitutes a governmental facility, it should provide transparent methods allowing reviewing its efficacy. Moreover, scholars claim that the “innovative” non-governmental status of the industry diffuses state sovereignty mainly because of the issues of liability and public access to information. This aspect may even threaten national security because the absence of actual accountability before state regulators poses a number of risks caused by corruption, contract interpretation, problems with performance and other. In order to mitigate these issues, private enterprises have to introduce measures increasing their transparency. Moreover, as scholars characterize it, private prisons should not detract from the beneficial nature of punishment. Increased transparency and free access to information, in its turn, would mitigate basic oversight and accountability problems solving the number of the problems discussed above. However, despite the initiatives in restructuring and attempts of meeting the demands of the state, the public tends to reject the perspective of having private prisons in the future.
One of the major issues that cause the public and officials reaction towards turning towards the standard practice of having only state owned prisons is the statistics of negative incidents and oversight issues. The vivid example of it is the attempt of lobbying the interests of corporations owning prisons through appeals to the presidential candidate Hillary Clinton whereas her opponent Bernie Sanders aims at banning private prisons. The attempt of saving the controversial business in the way that opposes public opinion is not the best option, which is why one supposes the policy against private corrections would be implemented. It is possible to consider the evidence from other countries that rejected from a perspective of having private prisons. One of such countries is Israel, the officials of which decided banning this business after revising the recent 30 years of similar controversies related to accountability and privacy. Despite revisions of private prison systems in such countries as Brazil found no deterioration in the quality of service, this issue should be regulated only by government. Such position in Israel was officially explained as the wish of the state to have a monopoly on “permitted violation of human rights”. Therefore, one presumes that the government of the US should follow the practices of Israel and initiate similar processes returning the prison owning monopoly to the state bodies. In contrast with privately owned corrections, it is possible to grant human rights adherence and cost efficacy when corrections belong to the country.
Summarizing the presented information, the paper comes to a conclusion that despite the public opinion towards having privately owned corrections is controversial they should be banned throughout the country. The performed analysis revealed critical systemic problems in private corrections leading to the problems with safety, human rights adherence, and accountability, access to information, oversight and other. In contrast, publicly owned prisons are mostly known only for budgetary problems. As a result, the state has to protect the rights and freedoms of its citizens in prisons by returning the monopoly for owning prisons. The supporters of this business attempt lobbying their interest by means of supporting one of current presidential candidates. However, one presumes that the US should follow the example of Israel and establish a monopoly on the right for deliberate legal punishment of its citizens. Consequently, there is a perspective for the US to return the past state of its judicial system with publicly owned correction facilities.