Racial Disparity in Private Prisons

Even within the criminal justice system where policies are supposed to be fair and where no one is above the law, racial disparities are still prevalent.

A study by researcher Christopher Petrella from the University of California-Berkeley reveals that there is a greater percentage of people of color in private prisons than public prisons.


In order to remain cost-effective, private prisons contracts allow prisons to avoid housing inmates that require expensive medical treatment (who are often older), thus meaning that they will target prisoners who are younger and healthier.

As seen in the graph below, private prisons have lower rates of inmates above age 50 (and often white) compared to public prisons.




The difference in terms of race and age stems from the War on Drugs. The War on Drugs has disproportionately targeted communities of color by implementing strict sentencing policies e.g. three-strikes law and mandatory minimum sentencing.

“In many ways, the so called ‘War on Drugs’ was a war on communities of color, a war on black communities, a war on Latino communities.” – Angela Davis

“You start out in 1954 by saying nigger, nigger, nigger. By 1968, you can’t say nigger, that hurts you. It backfires. So you say stuff like forced-bussing, state’s rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now. You’re talking about cutting taxes, and all of these things you’re talking about are totally economic things, and the by-product of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.” – Lee Atwater, campaign strategist for Ronald Reagan

In addition to the racial climate of America after the civil rights movement, the profit motive of private prisons and corporations also exacerbates the racial disparity. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is an organization where corporate members like State Farm Insurance, Koch Industries, and PhRMA propose laws to politicians and vote alongside legislators for bills and laws. After this, lawmakers introduce the laws to their state. This means that corporations have a huge influence on state legislations, one of them being Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the first private prison corporation. The CCA introduced  series of bills like the three-strikes law and mandatory minimum sentencing laws that have allowed for private prisons to be continuously supplied with inmates to ensure profit, which goes to ALEC’s shareholders. For instance, the War on Drugs,  proposed by CCA and supported by ALEC, led to younger, healthier inmates, who disproportionately constitutes people of color.

Ultimately, Petrella says his results “shed light on the ways in which ostensibly colorblind policies and attitudes can actually have very racially explicit outcomes. Racial discrimination cannot exist legally, yet still manifests itself.”


Private Prisons Please Stop Spending Taxpayers’ Money!

uncle sam

Despite what your senator may claim ….don’t believe the hype! Mass incarceration is strenuous on taxpayer dollars and if you’re a law-abiding citizen with a job then that means your money will be helping with the bill!  In today’s economy people are barely able to afford themselves let alone inmates who were given football numbers for petty crimes in efforts to create maximum profit for private prisons.

To be frank the whole system is screwed. On one hand while we the taxpayers are forced to pay more money in taxes in order to keep the prison doors open, lowering the budget would also put those incarcerated at risk.

Studies have proven that mass incarceration is not the answer in solving the problem. Instead of contributing tax dollars to this system that acts as modern day slavery, contributions  to education and rehabilitation programs would be more effective and would also help illuminate the amount of arrest.   This logic would also eventually save taxpayers money because the incarceration rate would decline.

“According to one study, even if only 10 percent of drug addicted offenders went to rehabilitation program instead of jail the criminal justice system would save 4.8 billion in one year” GenFKD

Still don’t understand how education plays a role in mass incarceration? The Atlantic provides a great visual of mass incarceration and highlights how education is a factor in the demographic that makes up the highest percentage of the incarcerated population…The Black Male.


Besides more education and rehabilitation programs being more affective than mass incarceration another point that is obvious and shouldn’t be ignored is that its simply an unfair system. According to Prison Divest, while we the taxpayers are forced to pay more taxes private prisons receive tax breaks and pay as little as 3 percent in tax dollars. Between the small amount of taxes they are forced to pay and the contracting of prison labor this allows them to receive maximum profit. The proof is in the pudding how can you argue that mass incarceration helps taxpayers when we are the ones that are paying for it? Employees stimulate the economy not free labor.


Prison: Last Week Tonight

In this video, John Oliver talks about the prison system and situation in America. He mentions about healthcare in private prisons (starts 8:24) and highlights several problems and consequences of privatising prisons (e.g. safety of inmates).

“The key problem with running prisons as businesses, is that prisons, are then run as businesses.”

“Private prisons are bad yes, but the whole system just seems fundamentally broken.”

Free-Forced Labor

Food Banks Inmates

Prison labor in the United States can be traced back to the mid 19th century. During the post-Civil War era, many prisoners were hired out to continue the slavery culture. Prison labor in the US continues today, but on a much grander scale.

In the article Enlisting Prison Labor to Close Budget Gaps, the authors argue that prison labor is good for US, economically speaking. ‘“There’s special urgency in prisons these days. As state budgets get constricted, the public is looking for ways to offset the cost of imprisonment.’” Aside from making license plates and picking up litter, prisons have expanded on these services to include tasks such as: painting vehicles, cleaning courthouses, sweeping campsites, cleaning animal carcasses from the road, painting cells, repairing leaking public water tanks and many other. These duties formerly performed by private contractors and government employees are helping the state save money. For instance, in Florida were the budget was cut by $4.6 billion, analyst predict that inmate farming could save about $2.4 million a year.

I disagree with the article above because it fails to acknowledge a critical aspect of the prison labor system, free-forced labor. According to an article on Quartz, the Bureau of Prisons require all federal inmates work, unless they have a medical excuse. If prisoners refuse to work, they can be punished with solitary confinement, revoking visitation or loss of recreation time. In addition to being forced to work, inmates are also unfairly compensated. End Slavery Now reports that the average salary for workers fall between $.23-$1.15 per hour. Inmates are also subject to a harsh working environment including no unions, safety regulations, pensions, social security, sick leave, overtime pay or other benefits/protection.

Large corporations are also in on the action too. According to Global Research, at least 37 states have legalized the contracting of prison labor by private corporations. Some of these businesses include: IBM, Microsoft, Nordstrom’s, Macy’s, Target, Starbucks, Revlon, Hewlett-Packard, Walmart, Victoria Secret and many more.

How is it even remotely fair the manner in which these prisoners are being exploited? Laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act should be preventing this from happening right? I mean the FSLA does state that it establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, record  keeping, and youth employment standards affecting employees in the private sector and in Federal, State, and local governments. Wrong! The Courts have repeatedly ruled that inmates are not protected by labor laws. Just imagine how much profit these corporations and the government is making by paying these inmates substandard wages for performing the same task that a non-inmate would receive at least the minimum wage for. Enough is enough! It’s time for a true reform on the prison labor system in America.

“It’s a big scheme that corporate America and the prison system are just taking advantage [and] exploiting prisoners. And they say [we’re] the criminals. They ought to take a true look at themselves, because they’re the true criminals. We want to be treated as American citizens. We’re not slaves.”

Siddique Hasan

Incarceration Nation: Ethical Issues Surrounding Private Prisons

The United States has the largest prison population in the world since the incarceration rate has skyrocketed since the mid 70’s, as seen in the chart below.


Prisoners, of whom a majority are African-American, are often employed as cheap or even free labor by companies with the intention of cutting costs and maximising profit. The most common form of employment involves simple manufacturing that operates under government-run prison production schemes that are called “correctional industries” or Unicor. As mentioned in last week’s post, private prisons fall short in terms of cost-efficiency. In addition to that, they are also severely lacking from a moral standpoint. This post will take a closer look at the ethical implications of private prisons and inmate labor.

The first problem lies with who the prisoners are. Most inmates commit low-level, non-violent crimes and have been unfairly sentenced to jail time. While on the surface it might seem as though prosecutors are to blame for this, private prisons are the main culprit as they earn more profit when more of their prisons are filled up. Lauren-Brooke Eisen (@lbeisen), senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, has even said that one reason the Trump administration is moving back to private prisons is based on “what they falsely see as a rise in crime”.

Overcrowding, overheating, understaffing, lack of medical attention, abuse and neglect… These are just some of the conditions inmates are subjected to in for-profit prisons. Some prison facilities even lose their contract with federal immigration authorities because of the unimaginable conditions they subject their inmates to. One example is the Willacy facility, in which inmates slept a couple of feet apart in an area haphazardly built out of Kevlar tents.

We also cannot ignore the fact that when corporations hire inmates, some, if not most, of them are forced to work against their will. This means that your groceries from Whole Foods and lingerie from Victoria’s Secret were involuntarily made or packaged by someone just so that a company could make more profit from it. Doesn’t that sound like slavery to you?

The ethical issues that stem from inmate labor extend far beyond prison walls. BP P.L.C., also known as British Petroleum, is a British multinational oil and gas company that currently has 74,500 employees in 72 countries. In 2010, when BP’s Deepwater Horizon wellhead exploded, inmates were made to clean up crude oil which had spilled into the Gulf of Mexico along Louisiana beaches. This sparked outrage as instead of hiring the coastal residents who were desperate for work, BP turned to hiring inmates with the hopes of earning tax breaks. Inmates were forced to work for hours on end, performing the most toxic job in America with no proper job training.


The ethical issues surrounding private prisons are more than sufficient to necessitate private prison reform.