Prisons, Detention and Public Safety

• Disaster relief
• Emergency services
• Firefighting
• Policing and security
• Prisons
• Immigration detention centers
• Prison and detention center food and medical services

Public safety is among the most basic of core government functions. In our times of greatest vulnerability, we rely on 911 call centers, paramedics, firefighters, and other public safety officers. Repeatedly, the quality and reliability of these vital services have significantly declined when cities have entrusted them to private contractors.

Quality differences such as slower response times of ambulances and paramedics can mean life or death, especially in rural areas. In one recent example, a woman died in Tate County, Tennessee, after the private contract ambulance took longer to arrive at the scene than the public county firefighters.

Beyond privatizing paramedics and ambulances, some cities have hired private firms to provide security services and even write traffic citations. Ensuring that the public’s safety and security is at the heart of these services is difficult when companies are trying to turn a profit.

The privatization of jails and prisons has steadily increased since the 1980’s, as both the construction and operation of prisons has become a big business. Incarceration for profit has caused many problems, as private companies fail to make decisions in the best interest of the inmates or the communities in which the prisons are located. Private prison companies have employed unqualified guards, resorted to excessive violence and cruelty to control inmates, and provided substandard medical care, resulting in unnecessary deaths. Prison privatization has led to numerous lawsuits and litigation, fines, and increased need for federal oversight, at great cost to taxpayers, communities, inmates and their families.

In August 2010, an Arizona state report blamed the poor security, faulty alarms, and general complacency at a for-profit prison in Kingman for the escape of three convicted killers. Two of the escapees are accused of murdering an Oklahoma couple during the escape.

For information about issues related to private prisons in Texas, visit Grassroot Leaderships' blog: Texas Prison Bid'ness

Several informative reports related to prison privatization have released been recently:

Prison Privatization Backgrounder Brief
In The Public Interest, 2011

Gaming the System: How the Political Strategies of Private Prison Companies Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies
Justice Policy Institute, 2011

Cells for Sale: Understanding Prison Costs and Savings
Ohio Policy Matters, 2011

Prisons for Profit: A Look at Private Prisons
ACLU of Ohio Foundation, 2011

Making a Killing: How Prison Corporations Are Profiting From Campaign Contributions and Putting Taxpayers at Risk
AFSCME, 2011

For additional reports, please see the research section on the side bar or visit our research library.

Prison Conditions are Working Conditions

Publication Date: 

The Making of “Prisons For Profit”: A Raw Deal

Note: This blog post originally appeared on the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio's blog. Our many thanks to ACLU of Ohio's Senior Policy Director Mike Brickner and Communications Director Kim Schuette for their work to bring this story to the big screen. If you're in or around Columbus, OH, you can attend a free screening of the documentary "Prisons for Profit" on April 23rd at the Gateway Film Center.Read more »

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Reject Government Contractors Who Draw the Blinds on Sunshine

Note: This blog post originally appeared on the Center for Effective Government's blog The Fine Print. Our many thanks to the CEG's Executive Director Katherine McFate for her support of ITPI and our recent report. Read more »

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New Report: States with More Prison Privatization More Resistant to Criminal Justice Reform

New research from public policy experts at Dartmouth and the University of Minnesota has confirmed what critics of prison privatization have known for years: that prison privatization is a significant barrier to commonsense criminal justice reforms.Read more »

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Corrections Corporation of America's Loss Is Ohio's Gain

Cross-posted with permission from the ACLU blog:

What happens when a prison for profit loses one of its main moneymakers?

We're about to find out. Read more »

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The impact of Prop 47 on the private prison industry

California voters passed a groundbreaking ballot measure this month that reduces penalties and sentences for non-violent, “non-serious” crimes. Now, the private industry is responding to these changes in public attitudes and declining prison populations by opening up new lines of business.Read more »

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New Report Exposes How For-Profit Prison Corporations Co-Opt Prisoner Treatment and Rehabilitation for Monetary Gain

Yesterday, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Grassroots Leadership, and the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) released a groundbreaking report that exposes the ways in which for-profit prison corporations are adapting to historic reductions in prison populations by seeking out new markets previously served by non-p
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Captive Customers: Outsourcing Prison Services Is Ruining Lives and Bilking Taxpayers

Introducing for-profit companies into America's criminal justice system has been a bad deal for governments across the country. 

During the past several years, a movement opposed to profit incentives in our criminal justice system has grown. Private prison corporations such as Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group have come under increasing scrutiny and pressure for cutting corners, contracts that include "occupancy guarantees" of 80, 90 and even 100 percent and unsafe prison conditions. Read more »

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Aramark unfit for duty in Michigan prisons

**This article was orginally posted on The Detroit News**

When maggots were repeatedly discovered in Aramark prison kitchens over the summer, it was consistently reported that the company previously had paid a $98,000 fine to the state for previous contract infractions. We’ve now learned that was not true. While the fine was levied against Aramark, it was never paid after Corrections director Dan Heyns intervened and told Gov. Rick Snyder’s office he would “tone down [his] attack dogs, delay or cancel any fines.”Read more »

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Calls for Accountability for Aramark in Michigan Grow Louder

Since Aramark Correctional Services won a $145-million contract to feed Michigan inmates in December, the corporation has been plagued by instances of misconduct, poor sanitation, and other critical failures that risk the health and safety of inmates and correctional officers alike. Criticism from across the state has grown in recent weeks, and calls to cancel the contract with Aramark and increase transparency in the Department of Corrections have been echoed in at least three Michigan newspapers.Read more »

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