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.

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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ICYMI: In Shocking Failure of Accountability, MI Prisons Director Secretly Canceled Fine on Aramark

Since outsourcing prison food services to Aramark Correctional Services, Michigan’s prisons have experienced a series of increasingly egregious infractions including 
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Aramark Reaps Backlash in Michigan, Ohio

The for-profit contracting giant Aramark may lose a contract at a Michigan university, and inmates at the Ohio facility where maggots were found in an Aramark kitchen earlier this year are looking to other options for sustenance.Read more »

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Vermont Group Seeks to end Inmate Housing in For-Profit Prisons

Next month, a group of Vermonters is planning to launch a campaign to end the use of out of state correctional facilities operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest operator of for-profit prisons.Read more »

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Maggots in Aramark Kitchens Earn Slap on the Wrist

In a scene right out of Orange is the New Black, 1000 inmates at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville, Ohio dumped their food in protest last week after maggots were found in the kitchen and dining areas. The prison’s food service program had been outsourced to the massive Aramark corporation. Read more »

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The Cost of Private Prisons

Publication Date: 
4/9/2014
Document file: 

Reality Has Turned the Tide Against Private Prisons

In July of 2010, three inmates from the privately owned, for-profit Kingman Arizona State Prison received bolt cutters and lineman's pliers over a fence from an outside accomplice. The three prisoners, with four murders or attempted murders between them, cut the chain-link fence and made their getaway leading to a nationwide manhunt that lasted for weeks.Read more »

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