Press Release  ·  February 4, 2005

In These Times undercover report: exposing privatization of the prison system

Going undercover, In These Times contributor Silja J.A. Talvi exposes the behind-the-scenes business of today’s $50 billion a year for-profit prison industry, reporting on the tangled web of private-public partnerships that are “Cashing in on Cons.”

“Taking advantage of the unprecedented prison boom of the ’80s and ‘90s, prison administrators, politicians, lobbying firms and corporate boards created a prison-industrial complex in which everyone benefits except the prisoners,” Talvi writes.

The Latest Trend in Corrections

Talvi attended the American Correctional Association’s (ACA) 2005 Winter Conference, where 4,000 top prison decision-makers, consultants and employees gathered to share the latest products, prisoner maintenance techniques, personnel opportunities and private contractor jobs available in Iraqi prisons.

Financially supported by private prison corporations, the conference featured workshops such as “Anti-Terrorism in Correctional Facilities,” “Can’t Simply Paint it Pink and Call it a Girl’s Program” and “Intensive Medical Management: How to Handle Prisoners Who Self-Mutilate, Slime, Starve, Spit and Scratch.” The latter featured footage of a non-violent schizophrenic being forcibly extracted from his cell and strapped naked in a restraint chair, 16 hours after which he died.

Pain for a Price

The conference’s main draw was the exhibition hall where companies hawked their wares including, “restraint chairs, tracking systems, drug-detection tools, suicide prevention smocks and prison facility insurance,” while others competed to sell health care and pharmacy plans, surveillance systems and behavior modification programs. One of the most popular exhibits was that of Taser International, a company whose stun gun has been blamed for 74 deaths since 2001 and is in the midst of a financial fall-out.

Privatization, Politicians and Payola

Talvi also reports on the impact of private-pubic relationships in the prison industry. “The CCA (Corrections Corporation of America) has become a leader in securing private prison contracts. In FY 2003, the CCA generated more than $268.9 million in revenue… In 2004, the CCA’s political action committee gave $59,000 to candidates for federal office – 92 percent to Republicans,” Talvi writes. “As the industry has grown, the ACA has moved away from the ideals of rehabilitation and redemption of the human spirit. Today human beings are little more than commodities to be traded on the open market.”

The article is accompanied by sidebar reports on the ACA’s “accreditation” of prisons and how the most ACA-accredited prison corporation is racked by scandal; Dyncorp International’s efforts to attract correctional employees to Iraq, and “Sheriff Joe” Arpaio’s new state-of-the-art prison in Phoenix, Ariz.