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Private Prisons Still Booming

By Richard Geffken

While the rest of the nation suffers an economic downturn, private prison corporations continue to experience a boom.

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) has the biggest share of the marketplace, with 64 facilities nationwide. It built two new prisons in 2008, and is constructing two more in 2009. It also expanded its bed space at nine existing sites, putting 1,680 more in use in just one quarter of 2008. In business language, CCA's income increased by 14% to $37.9 million. The suffering doesn't matter, just count the money.

GEO Group ranks second in the industry. It expanded eight existing prisons, and began construction of a new one in Milton, FL in March 2009.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons had 13 prisons built for private management in the last 10 years. These have largely housed low security risk illegal immigrants. Delaying deportation increases bed space usage to maximize profits.

These corporations are seeking longer sentences through their lobbyists in nearly all state legislatures. Prison policy-makers are projecting increased prison populations of 25% by 2011. It's good for business. That will mean nearly 3 million Americans imprisoned.

Prison overcrowding in California has given the private prison industry an extra boost. Over 5,000 prisoners were shipped to other states' private facilities between 2007 - 2008 rather than cut any sentences. 2,900 more were transferred at the start of 2009. Nevertheless, reducing the prison population remains unthinkable. The numbers represent money and influence to politicians, and voter fears which translate into votes.

Having run California into virtual bankruptcy, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger still demands no mercy for prisoners. With a deficit of $41 billion, state workers and teachers are being laid off. 20,000 received their layoff notice on February 17, 2009. Cutting vital public services remains preferred to reducing prison populations and profit margins.

It offers little hope that 46 states face bankruptcy in 2009. President Obama is expected to bail them out, while they continue imprisoning more and more of his fellow citizens. Private prisons appear to be a "New Deal" industry. So much for change.

Richard Geffken is a Florida prisoner.

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