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What we’re reading on for-profit prisons

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From privatized medical services to court costs and fees, private companies are finding ways to make money off mass incarceration, with devastating consequences for prisoners, communities, and taxpayers. For a detailed look at who profits from the prison industry, check out our Investigate screening tool.


My four months as a private prison guard, by Shane Bauer via Mother Jones

Investigative journalist Shane Bauer goes undercover at a private prison run by Corrections Corporation of America. “When I drive home, I wonder who I am becoming. I feel ashamed of my lack of self-control, my growing thirst for punishment and vengeance. I'm getting afraid of the expanding distance between the person I am at home and the one behind the wire. My glass of wine with dinner regularly becomes three. I hear the sounds of Ash unit as I fall asleep. I dream of monsters and men behind bars.”


Welcome to Jail Inc.: How private companies make money off U.S. prisons, by Rupert Neate, via The Guardian

It’s not just prisons themselves that are privatized. Often, state-run facilities contract out health care and food services. “Getting locked up is unlikely to be good for your health but it’s 'terrific, terrific' business for the booming private industry supplying doctors and nurses to jails and prisons. Many of those suppliers descended on Austin, Texas, last month to tout their services directly to jail administrators at the 35th annual American Jail Association conference.”


Paying for Punishment: the New Debtors’ Prison, by Donna Murch, via Boston Review

Donna Murch breaks down some of the economic drivers – and consequences – of mass incarceration. “Opposition to mass incarceration and the war on drugs has lately become fashionable. The Koch brothers, Grover Norquist, and Newt Gingrich are lining up with the NAACP, ACLU, and Van Jones to support criminal justice reform. Many assume that budget savings are driving this newfound consensus. But understanding decarceration only through the lens of cost cutting has a major blind spot. America’s contemporary system of policing, courts, imprisonment, and parole doesn’t just absorb money. It also makes money through asset forfeiture, lucrative public contracts from private service providers, and by directly extracting revenue and unpaid labor from populations of color and the poor.”


Senate Bill Would End Tax Breaks for Private Prison Companies, by Mike Ludwig, via Truthout

New legislation may curb profits for the private prison companies. “Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) introduced legislation last week that would make it tougher for private prison companies to take advantage of federal rules that provide massive tax breaks for special real estate firms, a move that racial justice and prison divestment activists say is an important step toward confronting the corporations that control around 8 percent of the nation's prisons and immigrant jails.”

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