COMMENTARY | A UC-Berkeley grad student has discovered that there is a significant racial disparity in terms of inmate population between publicly-run and privately-run prisons, reports NPR. With privately-run prisons already having a negative reputation, the possibility that racism may have a role in determining which prisoners end up wards of truncheon-wielding profiteers is only more damaging. Christopher Petrella, pursuing a Ph.D. in Sociology, blames the disparity on profit-seeking private-sector prisons preferring to take younger, healthier prisoners, who are more likely to be minorities swept up in America’s “war on drugs,” instead of older prisoners, who are more likely to be white.
The public affairs director for Corrections Corp. of America (CCA) disagrees, claiming that government agencies determine which prisoners go to private-sector prisoners. Are there any written policies concerning who gets sent where? Is it done according to the whims of individual government bureaucrats? Is true racism to blame or are race-neutral policies leading to unplanned discrepancies?
It is possible that such race-based apportioning of prisoners may be due to racism, either conscious or subconscious, based on officials’ belief that younger, more aggressive prisoners may be more likely to file lawsuits in the wake of prisoner-guard conflicts. A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Minneci v. Pollard, as explained by Bloomberg Law, determined that prisoners in private sector federal prisons cannot sue for civil rights violations, perhaps creating an incentive for governments to shuttle convicts deemed more likely to be troublesome into privately-run prisons, where any successful prisoner lawsuits would not require widespread prison reform.
Instead of successful prisoner lawsuits harming the government, only the corporation running the individual prison would be liable.
Could poor, minority prisoners be disproportionately shuttled to privately-run prisons in order to insulate the state from damaging lawsuits? For-profit prisons may benefit from a “cut costs and pack ’em in” mentality, with state officials helping out because the situation is mutually beneficial: The prison corporations make more profit from housing more inmates and the wealthier, better-connected inmates, more likely to be white, get to reside in less overcrowded state prisons.
It makes a twisted sort of sense: Funnel prisoners who are more likely to win lawsuits into more professional, safer state-run prisons and funnel prisoners who are more likely to “cause problems” and file lawsuits over inappropriate treatment into corporate-run prisons. The corporate prisons are grimmer and grimier but insulate the state from court-forced reforms while the state prisons are the “textbook” institutions that appear in the media.
In the end, it’s just another reason to do away with for-profit prisons. Nobody should profit off of incarcerating and punishing others – it should be strictly a government responsibility, run for and by the voting citizen.