On Aug. 27, California Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a $315 million plan to move thousands of state offenders to private prisons in order to lower the current inmate population of California’s prisons. The cost is estimated to potentially reach over $700 million in the next two years. The alternative plan, Brown said, is the release of thousands of felons into the public. While it is true that the prison population of California is enormously overpopulated – reaching approximately 200 percent of capacity in 2009 – and needs to reduce its numbers, privatizing prisons is not a smart solution.
Private prisons are non-government-owned entities given the responsibility to hold inmates. They are paid per prisoner held, so their interests are to keep as many people in prison for as long as possible. The largest firms have immensely influential lobbying groups in Washington, D.C. that advocate laws that harshly penalize minor, nonviolent crimes like drug possession.
Private prisons were outlawed at the beginning of the 20th century but were reinstated when the state prisons in the 1980s ran out of money and needed more capital to account for their growing population. Since then, the incarceration rate has tripled, but violent crime in America has declined. Nearly one out of every 100 American adults is serving time, and one out of every 28 children has a parent in prison.
Private prisons are a scam that is detrimental to the American public. Prisoners do not necessarily have to be released back into the public, but the last place they should be in is a private prison. Many of these prisoners are incarcerated for minor offenses. Not to mention the inmate population is disproportionately composed of minorities and people of low income.
These private companies would make money from more and more incarcerated prisoners. Statistics are pitched at investors that show the inmate population increasing. Instead of privatizing prisons, that $315 million plan should go toward community development, such as education, to prevent incarceration in the first place.
Perhaps new laws, such as the legalization of personal use of marijuana, can be passed to prevent those arrests and imprisonments. But as long as companies continue to make money off of incarceration for such petty crime, these plans will never go through because it is not profitable.
Many experts believe that the legalization of cannabis is not far off in more states, according to the The Huffington Post. Unfortunately, given the amount of money that is made from the incarceration of people who possess marijuana, it seems highly unlikely.
The justice system is the first issue in the prison population problem and is inextricably linked to the privatization of prisons. Brown’s system is an immoral one that profits from the ruined lives of millions of Americans.
To fix the prison population problem, there must be a more complete review of the criminal justice system. This includes addressing absurd sentencing laws and recidivism rates. If anything, California can build more state prisons with programs designed to rehabilitate inmates instead of allowing privately owned companies to make money off of prisoners.