Private Sector Detention


Last week Pennsylvania judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. plead guilty to illegally prosecuting minors, in order to get kickbacks from privately-run juvenile detention centers. Children were sentenced to three months incarceration for making fun of their teachers on MySpace. The judge had closed down a public detention facility in order to make way for his private business partners, underscoring the danger of adding a profit motive to punishment.

The George Bush era was a time of rampant privatization and dismantling of social institutions meant to keep us safe. In addition to outsourcing prisons we also outsourced the military. Remember the Blackwater scandal in Iraq? The private security firm was hired by the State Department as mercenaries and got in trouble for shooting civilians. Once Iraq got its own constitution they faced criminal charges and their contract was withdrawn. (Recently the company changed its name for PR purposes and got out of the mercenary for hire business.)

Some things should not be done for profit. In Alabama a Sheriff was allowed to pocket money saved on feeding prisoners and the result was many of his prisoners starved. The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) manages more than 60 detention facilities, holding up to 85,000 prisoners (inmates? detainees? clients?). Private prisons may be the most profitable business in America. Apparently, there is a lot of money to be made in crime.

M. Rebekah Otto lives in Berkeley, CA. She grew up in Chicago. Her current interests include her new nine-to-five, vintage wallpaper, and Evan S. Connell. Also, she's the former Books Editor of the Rumpus. More from this author →