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Christopher Petrella
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Tuesday 25 September 2012
Spending millions each year to defeat the very legislation that would support the industry’s claims of superior public safety and savings demonstrates that the for-profit corrections system stands at cross-purposes with itself.

Private Prisons Currently Exempt from Freedom of Information Act

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It seems that every few days I read a new press release or “study” commissioned by the private prison industry lauding its supposedly unmatched performance on measures of efficiency and safety relative to the public sector.  Despite the industry’s zeal for public approval, it routinely refuses to disclose the very information necessary to support its arguments.  

Whereas public departments of corrections on the state and federal levels are subject to disclosure statutes under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), private prison firms contracting with public agencies are not. This level of concealment is indefensible in light of the $7.9 billion in federal contracts that the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group (GEO)—the two largest publicly-traded, private prison firms—have been awarded since 2007. If companies like CCA and GEO would like to continue to rely on taxpayer largess, then they should be required to adhere to the same disclosure laws as their public counterparts.

The need for disclosure statutes providing the public access to information pertaining to the operations of private prisons is vital if reasonable comparisons are to be made between the private and public sectors. Since 2005 five separate iterations of a bi-partisan Private Prison Information Act—H.R. 1806 , S. 4031 , H.R. 1889, H.R. 2450 , and most recently H.R. 74  —have been introduced in Congress. Each bill has died in or before subcommittee hearings. The bills, which would have essentially obligated “non-governmental entities and state and local governmental entities that have agreements with any federal agencies to incarcerate or detain federal prisoners in a non-federal prison or correctional facility to comply with all FOIA requirements,” were met with resistance from the private prison industry every step of the way.

CCA has led the legislative attack.

Since 2007 CCA has spent over $7 million lobbying against the passage of various Private Prison Information Acts. (Take a peek at their most recent disclosure from the second quarter of 2012. ) They claim that an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act protects their propriety interest in keeping their “trade secrets” private

Excuse me, trade secrets? Doesn’t public safety rely in large measure on transparency and disclosure?

That the private prison industry vaunts its record of alleged public safety and savings means it implicitly recognizes the importance making appeals to the public good. And if the leading firms acknowledge  the value of the public good, then their efforts to lobby vociferously against the passage of the Private Prison Information Act is antithetical to their stated missions.

CCA and GEO can’t have it both ways, especially when organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have for decades now been chronicling the abusive conditions at a number of their facilities. 

Spending millions each year to defeat the very legislation that would support the industry’s claims of superior public safety and savings demonstrates that the for-profit corrections system stands at cross-purposes with itself.

Please write your Congressperson immediately and demand transparency in the private prison industry.  Free speech and free press are essential to an informed citizenry, and an informed population  is the only kind capable of building a world that values people over profit.  



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ABOUT Christopher Petrella

Christopher Petrella is a NationofChange contributing author and a doctoral candidate in African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He writes on the contradictions of modernity and teaches at San Quentin State Prison. His work has appeared in such publications as Monthly Review, Truthout, Axis of Logic, NationofChange, and The Real Cost of Prisons. Christopher also holds degrees from Bates College and Harvard University.

This is the movement. Private

This is the movement. Private enterprise excluding itself from laws and even Constitutional right of the masses.

Case point: Blackwater. When Blackwater committed crimes, crimes that are clearly stated in the rules of engagement and in treaties worldwide, the US government wasn't responsible--even though they are the employers.

The reasoning goes like this:

The US isn't responsible because Blackwater is a corporation, not a military arm of the government. Blackwater cannot be prosecuted under current laws in the US because they are exempt.

See a pattern here? I hope for those who want to give corporations power over the Federal government, or shrink the Federal government to a point of irrelevance, that you would take a hard look at this trend.

If you think the Feds hurt your asshole (and I'm not saying they don't), wait till corporations get a hold of it.

Prisons for profit is the

Prisons for profit is the worst manifestation of the corporate takeover of our government. The people need to wake up and recognize this abomination to our republic and immediately start closing them down.

A prison for profit operates to make a profit, hence it has the perverse incentive of actually wanting to MAXIMIZE the number of prisoners in order to increase profits. A public prison has the incentive to MINIMIZE the number of prisoners in order to reduce expenditures.

With the number of of for profit prisons growing, is it any wonder that the U.S. now has more prisoners than Stalin's gulags right here in the "land of the free".

Prisons for profit, are

Prisons for profit, are abominable and inexcusable! There is no reason for such a vile cancer to feed upon the sanctity of our modern society. How about releasing all of the "criminals" who perpetrated (with their inalienable free-will) upon themselves, from prison...ie: drug users, people wanting to commit suicide..., any circumstances where the victim is also the perpetrator, those prisoners should be Unconditionally released. The true criminals are the ones who, with their fragile, insecure, infantile egos, need to show how big and powerful they are, by controlling other people's lives and imposing their conditional perceptions upon the Divinely Sanctioned Rights, of others!

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