A Perspective on the Chaos of Private Prisons in America

  According to a recent report released by the Prison Policy Initiative, an American public policy think tank, 102 federal prisons, 1,566 state prisons and other institutions in the United States hold about 2 million prisoners, accounting for a quarter of the world's prisoners.

At the same time, a large number of public prisons in the United States have been privatized, and private prisons have made money by increasing the number of prisoners, which has become another stubborn disease of American human rights.

The UN official website previously published an article saying that UN human rights experts urged the United States to "cancel all for-profit detention facilities", emphasizing that detainees should not be targeted for profit.

  In the 1980s, in order to relieve the pressure of overcrowded public prisons, the US government commissioned some companies to open private prisons by purchasing services.

After decades of development, private prisons have grown in size, forming lucrative industries and huge lobbying groups.

Corruption, lobbying, increased capacity, higher rates of violence and the resulting increase in incarceration rates and sentences in private prisons are the reasons for their condemnation.

  What are the main problems of private prisons in the United States?

How has the connection of power and capital alienated the American judicial system?

Why are private prisons in the United States still standing?

The reporter interviewed Zhang Guirong, a researcher at the Foreign Research Office of the Institute of Crime Prevention of the Ministry of Justice, and Ge Xiangwei, an associate researcher.

  In the past 40 years, private prisons in the United States have continuously exposed scandals such as labor exploitation, human rights violations, racial discrimination, and political and business collusion.

  Reporter: The UN official website once published an article saying that UN human rights experts urged the United States to "cancel all for-profit detention facilities", emphasizing that detainees should not be targeted for profit.

What is the background to this?

  Zhang Guirong: The protection of the rights of detainees (who have restricted personal freedom) has always been one of the key areas of human rights concern of the United Nations.

In order to protect human rights and the rights of prisoners and detainees, the United Nations has issued a series of conventions and criminal justice guidelines that protect human rights and the rights of prisoners.

Judging from the performance of private prisons in the United States, it has seriously violated the principles of the United Nations on the protection of human rights.

  The United States has the largest incarcerated population in the world, and nearly 8 percent of the prison population is held in private prisons.

In the past 40 years, private prisons in the United States have continuously exposed scandals such as labor exploitation, human rights violations, racial discrimination, and political and business collusion, which have been widely condemned and criticized by all walks of life, and have also attracted the attention of the United Nations Human Rights Organization.

  Ge Xiangwei: At present, the most common private prison operation model is a private enterprise bidding. The prison and the government sign a contract. The government pays the daily expenses of each prisoner, and the enterprise undertakes the responsibility of managing the prison and supplying the needs of the prisoners.

In theory, the tenants of prison privatization should be private non-profit organizations, but the reality is that all private prisons in the United States are leased and operated by for-profit private companies.

The for-profit nature of private prisons makes it a priority to pursue profit rather than educate and reform criminals and protect prisoners' rights.

  Private prisons in the U.S. do anything for profit.

One is to find ways to reduce prison operating costs.

Prison facilities maintain minimum standards, reduce the number and deployment of security and correctional personnel, and reduce personnel requirements, resulting in poor prison management and frequent violence and riots in prisons.

Nationally, in 2020, private prisons had 65.8% more inmate attacks than public prisons, and 48.7% more attacks on staff, the report showed.

The second is to force prisoners to engage in high-intensity, low-paid labor and charge prisoners high service fees.

In private prisons, prisoners are treated as labor machines and slaves, and their expenses are compressed.

Prisoners work six hours a day for $20 a month, or 17 cents an hour; inmates want to make phone calls, $18.34 for 15 minutes, $1 a minute for a video call, and $1 for a cigarette.

The third is that people of color and immigrant groups in private prisons in the United States will be severely unfairly treated.

These include: disproportionate incarceration, discrimination, abuse, lack of treatment for disease, etc.

These practices all violate the UN criminal justice norms and touch the bottom line and red line of the UN human rights protection.

  Reporter: What are the main problems of private prisons in the United States?

  Zhang Guirong: In response to the chaos of private prisons in the United States, many critics have exposed them, such as "a dilapidated American flag flutters on the fence of private prisons", "private prisons in the United States have created a system of money for freedom", and private prisons in the United States are " Tools of Modern Slavery", "a product of collusion between power and capital," a "Gladiator School," etc.

  The problems of private prisons in the United States mainly include the following aspects: First, the private sector manipulates public powers such as legislation and judiciary.

Private prisons influence criminal legislation and judiciary through lobbying, political donations, bribery, etc., making criminals more severe and longer in prison.

The second is the alienation of prison functions, emphasizing the pursuit of unlimited profits, ignoring punishment and reforming criminals, and turning criminals into commodities.

Private prisons choose to hold the most profitable offenders based on cost-benefit considerations and do not hold high-risk offenders with high costs.

Third, the rights of prisoners and staff are not guaranteed.

Private prisons cut costs by providing only low-quality meals and goods and poor medical care; retaining minimal staff and paying low wages.

Fourth, the management order is chaotic, and prison violence intensifies.

Inmates attack each other in private prisons almost 30 percent higher than in public prisons.

Fifth, the cost of detention is higher, and the efficiency of reforming prisoners is low.

In the long run, structural deficiencies in private prisons may increase incarceration costs by prolonging sentences and increasing recidivism rates.

Sixth, criminals are treated differently because of the difference between the rich and the poor, which affects the seriousness and authority of criminal execution and undermines the justice of the judiciary.

  Private prisons have brought huge benefits to related companies, but have led to the tragedy of "children for dollars"

  Reporter: In the United States, how did the crazy interest chain behind it lead to the alienation of prisons into "slave factories"?

  Ge Xiangwei: Privatization of American prisons can be traced back to before the Civil War.

Since the 1980s, driven by the anti-drug war, the U.S. government has incorporated private prisons into the government correction system under the banner of “relieving containment pressure and reducing incarceration costs”, and handed over the responsibility that should have been borne by the state to private interest groups , the private prison industry began to flourish.

  Entering the 21st century, private prisons are a multi-billion dollar industry and growing.

Take American Correctional Corporation, the largest private prison operator in the U.S., whose revenue has grown more than 500 percent in less than 20 years, from about $280 million in 2000 to $1.77 billion in 2017.

American Correctional Corporation and American Correctional Corporation are two of the largest private prison companies in the United States. Both are listed companies and have more than 100 incarceration facilities across the United States.

Private prisons have brought huge benefits to related companies.

According to US media reports, in 2020, the revenue of US correctional companies will reach as high as 1.9 billion US dollars, 82.2% of which will come from private prison operations, and the US correctional group's revenue will be as high as 2.3 billion US dollars.

  The profits of private prisons in the United States mainly come from targeted government subsidies, forced labor and low operating costs.

Generally, the government pays the fees based on the number of inmates the prison holds (about $23,000 per inmate per year to private prison operators).

If the number of people is large, the targeted subsidies will be more.

This has also led to the fact that private prisons, in order to collect more head fees, treat prisoners as commodities, trample on the dignity of the law and human rights, and invest a lot of money to lobby the legislature to extend sentences, expand prison terms, and detain more people in prisons.

  In 2011, there was a case of "children for dollars" in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, USA.

Two local judges accepted more than $2 million in bribes from two private juvenile prison contractors.

In return, from 2003 to 2008, they sent about 4,000 teenagers to private prisons to increase the number of prisoners.

This is one of the most serious violations of children's rights in American judicial history, reflecting the alienation of the American judicial system and prison functions, as well as the manipulation of public power by private interest groups in the United States.

  Another major source of prison profits is the labor income of prisoners.

In order to obtain high returns, private prisons force prisoners to perform high-intensity labor, but pay extremely low wages. Some prisoners in private prisons do not even have rest days and are not allowed to take sick leave. Private prisons are completely alienated from education and reform places into new "slave factories". ".

According to the "Los Angeles Times" report, during the new crown epidemic, inmates in some women's prisons in the United States were forced to work overtime to produce masks, working up to 12 hours a day, but they did not have masks available.

A female prisoner infected with new coronary pneumonia said that this place is like a "slave factory", and the prison treats them as cash cows.

  Reporter: Why do you say that private prisons in the United States are "the product of collusion between power and capital"?

  Zhang Guirong: Although private prisons in the United States are widely condemned and criticized, the private prison industry is still growing and making a lot of money. It is precisely because private prisons in the United States are the product of collusion between power and capital.

The U.S. private prison system has become one of the most lucrative and lucrative industries in the country, attracting many banks and private investors to invest in it.

Most of its investors are Wall Street giants, and Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JPMorgan, and others are counting on its profitability.

  The reason why private prisons have become favored by major capitals is not only that they can win huge returns, but the key is that their profits have a strong political guarantee.

On the one hand, in order to maintain its normal operation, the government signed a "bed guarantee clause" with private prisons, that is, the government pays private prisons according to a certain occupancy rate (90%), and even if the prison beds are not full, the government must pay the fee.

Under the lobbying of private groups, sometimes at the expense of the public interest, the government passed legislation to increase the number of incarcerated persons and prolong the sentences of incarcerated persons to ensure the occupancy rate of private prisons.

According to the American Corrections Corporation's 2011 financial report, it netted $18.33 per inmate per day for each inmate it took in.

  On the other hand, private prisons are also actively taking advantage of the huge benefits from prisoners to invest in political activities in exchange for the support of political groups in the privatization of prisons and greater economic benefits.

They intervene in elections and legislative decisions by providing campaign donations, lobbying legislators, bribing officials, etc., to find spokespersons for themselves.

Private prison contractors spend huge amounts of money each year on funding political candidates and lobbying. Correctional corporations and correctional groups in the United States spent $14.6 million on funding and lobbying government activities from 2010 to 2015.

  Putting the interests of the rich first, the status quo of private prisons cannot be changed by whoever is in power

  Reporter: Why do you say that the chaos of private prisons in the United States "cannot be changed by whoever is in power"?

  Ge Xiangwei: The Obama administration tried to abolish private prisons during its administration.

In the final months of its administration, the Justice Department concluded that private prisons were more dangerous and less efficient at rehabilitating prisoners than government-run prisons.

In August 2016, the Justice Department announced plans to end the use of private prisons, but the Trump administration reversed the plan less than a year later.

According to USA Today, President Trump's inauguration fund has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from two private prison groups.

So Trump put a hold on closing private prisons as soon as he took office.

  Biden, as a presidential candidate, had pledged to end the use of private prisons, saying the federal government should not use private facilities for any detention, including immigration detention.

In January 2021, Biden signed an executive order directing the Justice Department not to renew contracts with private prisons.

But the executive order does not address immigration detention centers and local jails.

Instead, the administration doubled down on Trump-era anti-immigrant deterrence policies and expanded immigration detention capacity.

Statistics show that in 2021, the U.S. government will detain as many as 1.7 million illegal immigrants, of which 80% will be held in private detention centers with harsh conditions.

A few days after the Biden administration announced the executive order, Alabama leased the right to use a private prison for 30 years from the American Corrections Corporation for $3 billion.

To make matters worse, in October 2021, the California State Board of Appeals struck down a 2019 law in the state that aimed to phase out private immigration prisons by 2028.

In this way, the world's largest immigration detention system, the private immigration prison, remains in the state.

  Whether it is the policy reversal of the U.S. Department of Justice, the abolition of practical practices that have been retained in name, or the incarceration of more immigrants, people of color, and the poor in private prisons, it all shows the nature of American money politics and the American style. The hypocrisy of human rights.

This shows that American politics will put the interests of the rich first, which determines that the status quo of private prisons in the United States cannot be changed by whoever is in power.

  The root cause of the chaos in American private prisons is the problem of the American political system

  Reporter: In the United States today, money politics has already penetrated into many aspects of national governance, and even the prison, a place that should be used to defend fairness and justice, is full of loopholes.

How to treat this phenomenon?

  Zhang Guirong: Prisons, as part of the judiciary, should reflect fairness and justice, but the serious violation of human rights in private prisons in the United States obviously jeopardizes judicial fairness and justice.

Private prisons influence criminal policy, criminal legislation and criminal justice through lobbying, making criminals more severe and longer in prison, breeding judicial corruption, not guaranteeing criminals' rights, and distorting the purpose of criminal execution.

  The root cause of this chaos is the problem of the American political system.

The political logic of the realization of American-style human rights is mainly to adjust the relationship between the state and the people through the two-party system and the separation of powers, but the state power of the United States is essentially firmly in the hands of interest groups, who control the fate of the people and control various The syndicate, they've bought the Senate, Congress, statehouses and city halls, they've got the judges in their hands, they own all the big media companies, they control what people hear and what they hear, they want more for themselves Therefore, the masses of the people cannot truly enjoy their rights.

  In the final analysis, the essence of American-style democracy and human rights is a tool for safeguarding the interests of its ruling and interest groups, as well as its political system and social system, shouting slogans when needed, and wanton trampling when not needed.

Therefore, even though private prisons representing interest groups have been widely condemned for a long time for labor exploitation, human rights violations, racial discrimination, and political and business collusion, they can still stand. This is precisely determined by the nature of American money politics and hypocritical human rights.

  Reporter: The shady scenes of private prisons expose the hypocrisy of American human rights, but the United States still regards itself as the "grandfather of human rights" in the international community.

How do you know this?

  Ge Xiangwei: It is not uncommon for prison staff in the United States to violate human rights, but the United States still allows the existence of private prisons based on the needs of interests, which fully exposes the hypocrisy of American human rights.

Despite the bad record of human rights in the United States, the United States ignores its own human rights situation, ignores the sovereignty and dignity of other countries, and the independent choices of other countries' peoples.

This fully exposed the distortion of American human rights values ​​and the behavior of hegemonism and power politics.

  Whether democracy, freedom, or human rights are not the patent of some countries, but the rights of people of all countries.

People all over the world have the pursuit of a better life, and the concept of human rights, human rights standards, human rights interpretation and evaluation should not be dominated or monopolized by one or some countries.

There are various paths to achieve human rights goals, and there is no simple and uniform model that cannot be copied or imposed on others.

The United States challenges justice with its might, tramples on justice with its own interests, and recklessly violates the human rights of other countries. In fact, the United States has become the biggest hindrance and destroyer of the healthy development of the international human rights cause.