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California Contracts With Private Prisons To Alleviate Overcrowding

Lorelei Christie |
March 22, 2014 | 11:33 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Living conditions in an overcrowded California State Prison
Living conditions in an overcrowded California State Prison
The state of California is currently under intense pressure to reduce its enormous prison population. 

In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ruling that condemned California for prison overcrowding, which was leading to the deaths of at least one inmate per week.

In the court's majority opinion, Justice Kennedy argued that California prisoners were being robbed of the “essence of human dignity inherent in all persons.” 

Gov. Brown hoped to implement long-term solutions that would “help inmates become productive members of society and make our communities safer." While he has implemented some such solutions, he has also turned to one solution that may very well exacerbate, rather than solve, California’s mass incarceration crisis: privatization. 

READ MORE: State Assembly Passes Overcrowded Jail Plan

In September 2013, Gov. Brown signed a contract with GEO Group, America’s second largest private corrections company. GEO Group will receive an annual revenue of $30 million for housing 1,400 California prisoners.

In October, Gov. Brown made another deal with Corrections Corporation of America. California will give America’s largest private corrections company $28.5 million each year in exchange for 2,304 prison beds. This $28.5 million yearly revenue will add to the revenue CCA is already receiving from housing 9,000 California inmates in out-of-state facilities. 

California’s remarkably powerful prison guard union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, used to keep prison privatization in check, opposing it on the grounds that it threatened union guards' jobs.

But in an unprecedented political move, Gov. Brown appeased the union which had once been a powerful force in opposing privatization by agreeing to staff the private CCA prison with union guards. 

READ MORE: 1,400 California 'Lifers' Granted Parole In Last Three Years

CCPOA has been extremely successful in supporting politicians and initiatives that would increase incarceration rates. GEO Group and CCA also benefit from mass incarceration because their profit increases as their inmate population increases.

Now, these three powerful forces are jointly invested in the privatization of California’s prisons and the expansion of the inmate population. Does this growing profit motive in our criminal justice system risk obscuring the goal of public safety?

Reach Staff Reporter Lorelei Christie here.




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