The Austin Chronicle

Private Prisons Seek Broader Markets

By Michael King, November 24, 2014, 8:00am, Newsdesk

A new report finds that prison corporations, stymied by prison reform, are seeking new markets for human product lines – if you can't jail ’em, find another way to make ’em pay.

The “Treatment Industrial Complex has the potential to ensnare more individuals, under increased levels of supervision and surveillance, for increasing lengths of time – in some cases, for the rest of a person’s life.” A report released last week by the American Friends Service Committee, Grassroots Leadership, and the Southern Center for Human Rights coins the term “Treatment Industrial Complex” to describe the latest spinoff of the prison privatization business – aka the Prison Industrial Complex. The emerging “Treatment” complex, declares the report, are those “for-profit prison corporations … adapting to historic reductions in prison populations by seeking out new markets previously served by non-profit behavioral health and treatment-oriented agencies.”

With nationwide crime rates steadily declining, incarceration costs rising, and the legislative pendulum swinging against building more prisons, the private companies that have assumed management of many prison systems are beginning to look elsewhere for expansion possibilities. According to report author Caroline Isaacs, the private prison industry is moving away from “warehousing people and into areas that traditionally were focused on treatment and care of individuals involved in the criminal justice system [including] prison and jail subcontracted medical care, forensic mental hospitals and civil commitment centers, [and] community corrections’ programs such as halfway houses and home arrest.”

In addition to substituting private profit instead of rehabilitation as a primary motivation for the corrections system, the change creates a perverse incentive to expand the number of people under system control. Most for-profit prison corporations have poor records for safety, cost, and quality, Isaacs notes, and as they expand into areas like civil commitment, mental and physical health care, and “community corrections,” they are “financially dependent on the growth of supervised populations, providing perverse incentive not to rehabilitate.”

The report concludes, “For-profit prison corporations are too often not qualified or appropriate to manage such programs. Applying a corporate culture of incarceration to treatment and alternatives to prison has consistently delivered poor to disastrous results. These critical programs should be in the hands of community-based non-profit organizations and/or companies that bring experience in the relevant field, are transparent and accountable to taxpayers, and are grounded in evidence-based practice and high standards of care.”

The full report – "Treatment Industrial Complex: How For-Profit Prison Corporations are Undermining Efforts to Treat and Rehabilitate Prisoners for Corporate Gain" – is available here.

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