Friday, January 21, 2011

Private Prisons: Domestic and Global

America's private prison industry has experienced unpredecented growth over the past decade. Every year since 2003, America's largest prison firm, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) has reported record profits. Growth in the private prison industry has accelerated due to a number of political and economic forces. "Tough of crime" rhetoric, the push for austere "no frills" prisons, and economic trends toward privatization of public expenditures and services has created a welcoming environment for a private prison industry. At the same time, crackdowns on illegal immigration have created a niche market for private immigration detention facilities. In 2007 CCA paid close to $3.25 million in lobbying focused on immigration and national security. In 2008 Congress allocated 2.3 billion to the Corrections Corporation of American to expand immigration detention facilities. (Also see

Prison corporations such as CCA and Wackenhunt Correction Corporation have also begun to seek opportunities abroad. Prison industries have directly contributed the expansion of incarceration in developing nations by offering modernized industrial prisons as symbols of neoliberal economic development in the developing world. In making their case for global expansion, CCA and WCC have been some of the most fervent critics of the abuse and inefficiency in foreign prisons. For example, Julie Sudbury's research spotlights the growing connection between US prison firms and the emergence of global mass incarceration. She explains that by situating their arguments in neoliberal capitalism, the prison industry thrives by isolating the failures of state-run programs and offering for-profit alternatives, “a panacea that will solve the problems of overcrowding, corruption, and horrendous conditions in overstretched, under-resources penal systems” (p. 25). Private prisons, however, have exacerbated conditions and claims of efficacy are indicted by documented cases of staff shortages, inadequate health care, rampant violence, and sexual abuse (Nathan, 2000). Nonetheless, privatized prisons are now under construction or being considered in Argentina, Peru, Mexico, Canada, Venezuela, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and the Netherlands Antilles. This is only a brief snap-shot of how globalization has influenced the imperatives of US prison corporations.

Prison scholars and activists should also begin to turn their attention to how private prison industries have developed strategies to export the American model of mass incarceration abroad. Prisons should represent the failures of social policy, not its advancement or modernization. Prison industries have taken advantage of disparate strands of public discourse to make a convincing and dangerous argument; one that requires unmasking.

Nathan, S. (2000). The prison industry goes global. Yes! A Journal of Positive Futures, Fall, 34-35.
Sudbury, J. (2005). Introduction: Feminist critiques, transnational landscapes, abolitionist
visions. In J. Sudbury (ed.), Global lockdown: Race, gender, and the prison-industrial complex. New York: Routledge.
Sudbury, J. (2004). A world without prisons: Resisting militarism, globalized punishment, and
empire. Social Justice, 31, 9-30.