The Privatization Of American Prisons Essay

4434 words - 18 pages

The Privatization of American Prisons


Since 1984, the California Penal System has been forced to undergo drastic changes resulting from increased legislation aimed at increasing the severity of retribution to offenders leading to an exponentially increasing prison population. In the 132 years between 1852 and 1984, the state of California built twelve prisons, but has since supplemented the prison system with 21 new facilities. In 1977, the California Department of Corrections was responsible for 19,600 inmates. California’s inmate population now stands at 160,655, an increase of close to 800%.

Across the nation, both local and federal prison systems have looked to private corporations to provide beds for the exponentially increasing number of inmates. But because of the powerful California Prison Guards Union, the growth of private prisons has been stifled. But with the election of conservative governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican said to favor privatization, the issue has taken front stage for the $5 billion California penal system, the largest in the nation.

Private Prisons and their Historical Emergence

Historical Tradition of Private Prisons

As far back as Middle Aged England, criminals were prosecuted privately at the request of private parties employing private prosecutors.

Beginning in England, during the mid 16th century, prisons began to encourage productive labor, in addition to the traditional application of confinement as a measure to curb vagrancy. During this period, prisons were often to expensive to build and maintain, and were therefore mainly operated in the private sector. Prisoners “paid” for their confinement from revenue resulting from their labor. Workhouses were moneymaking operations, sinecures, for officials who have no government funds to run an institution.

Shortly after British colonists created the first Virginian settlements in 1607, a shipment of convicted felons arrived, shipped by British entrepreneurs to be used as indentured labor, a condition of their pardon. A process often used by private entrepreneurs, this, in turn, lowered prison costs to the respective government.

Throughout most of the eighteenth century, jails were maintained through a combination of fees and labor sales, and the state of Pennsylvania passed legislation calling for inmate labor to be used on all public projects.

Prisoner outsourcing in the United States is originally attributed to New York’s Newgate Prison in 1802. The prison was able to contract with local manufactures, effectively offsetting rising prison costs. By 1825, prisons throughout the country, including Auburn, Baltimore, Charlestown, and Wethersfield, were realizing profits resulting from “prison contracted labor industries.”

State legislators were quick to pass legislation aimed at compensating the rising costs attributed to keeping prisoners. In 1838, the state of New Jersey mandated all prisoners...

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