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Private corporations make money at almost every step of our justice and prison systems, from processing fines to monitoring ankle bracelets and drug testing. And they make a lot of it. The group In the Public Interest (ITPI), has just compiled a list:
Global Tel-Link provides phone and video call services to 2,400 federal, state, and local correctional facilities, a total of 1.3 million prisoners.
Three companies provide prescription drugs to over one million prisoners: Correct Rx, Diamond Pharmacy Services, and Maxor Correctional Pharmacy Services.
Aramark serves 380 million meals per year to correctional facilities across North America.
Sweetheart contracts with state and federal governments, and with the private companies who now own 20 percent of federal prisons across the United States, have opened up a whole new areas of taxpayer-funded profit-making. This includes contracts to provide pharmaceuticals to more than one million inmates in private, federal, state, and local prisons.
According to ITPI, taxpayers forked over nearly $12 million in total compensation for the top six executives running Corrections Corporation of America in 2014.
And the competition to make a profit hasn’t been good for people in the system. The foodservice and facilities giant Aramark has been repeatedly charged with providing dangerously unsafe food to prisoners. In fact, Aramark lost its contract with the state of Michigan last year due to maggots in the kitchen, drugs being smuggled by its employees, and Aramark workers engaging in sex acts with prisoners.
In 2012, the Michigan legislature voted to contract out food services for state prisons to a private company. The goal was to save $14 million a year out of the state's Department of Corrections budget of approximately $2 billion. That same privatization plan cut about 370 state jobs—good, union jobs.
Aramark was the lowest bidder for the contract. However, the deal ended up costing Michigan $52.5 million a year, $13 million more than expected.
When you add the immigration component, such as entire families who are seeking asylum and instead being held as “illegal” immigrants in similar prison systems, the scale of things gets even bigger, and the profits even more massive. In fact, immigration-related prisons are the fastest-growing sector of the private prison industry.
“This research underscores just how much private profit there is in every corner of our criminal justice system,” says Donald Cohen, In the Public Interest’s executive director. “Every dollar in profit for the private corrections industry is a dollar that could be invested in building a more moral and cost-effective criminal justice system. To strengthen safety and justice in our communities, we should spend that money on adequate staffing, quality health care, and training programs to prepare prisoners for productive lives when they are released.”
The following infographic depicts the possible paths of people charged with different offenses, and the many privatized services provided by the corrections industry. For more information visit In the Public Interest.
Brandon Weber has written for Upworthy, Liberals Unite, and Good.Is magazine, mostly on economics, labor union history, and working people. He is working on two books, one on forgotten labor history and one on the fatally flawed foster and adoption system, and some ways to fix it.