A Necessary Evil

Why Private Prisons are A Necessary Evil

Ethan Wallace

Opposing Opinions

Photo: The Borgen Project

Inhuman and Un-American

Why Private Prisons are Inhuman

McKenna Helfenberger

July 17th, 2018

One of my favorite shows that came out recently was Nick Cage, which centered around a crime fighting vigilante with bullet-proof skin and the strength of a small army. Cage came to acquire these powers after being held in a private prison where mad scientists were allowed to conduct wild and dangerous experiments on him. This show is all fiction, and so is much of the picture the media paints private prisons in. Abuse in private prisons is real, but so is abuse in public prisons, and in truth, private prisons are a necessity.


Private prisons are by far our largest source of immigrant detention facilities. Many of these facilities are located along our southern border, and they are not cheap. In fact, the ICE pays GEO Group, the nation's largest private prison conglomerate, $32 million a year just for one of these facilities in southern Texas which holds just one thousand detainees, according to NPR. Overall, we spend about $2 billion on just these numerous private detention centers per year. It seems like too much, but these facilities are a necessity to the functioning of border patrol and the ICE, as these private facilities host the majority of undocumented detainees. If they were to be eradicated, the burden of taking on all these detainees would fall on the state, where funding for public prison institutions is low to begin with, straining the already thinly stretched budget for public detention facilities. This would significantly dampen the ICE’s efforts in stopping illegal border crossings and would only put even more undue strain on them.


But that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the problems that private prisons help solve. One contention to take note of is overcrowding, which would certainly become a problem with their eradication. Because the US lacks the funds necessary to build enough prisons to mitigate the added influx of prisoners into public facilities, without private prisons, overcrowding in public prisons would become a major problem. The government wouldn’t be able to accommodate every new prisoner, so what we would see is a significant number of people being let go early because of overcrowding and also even worse conditions on the inside than what current private prisons are like.


Indirectly harming our border patrol agency and causing undue overcrowding in prisons is not the way we need to tackle this problem. Private prisons may be an evil, but they are a necessary evil, and one we need to approach without abolishment.

America’s for-profit prison industry has seen a vast increase in inmates. The industry is holding and controlling 126,000 American lives. The system is a 5-billion-dollar industry that is often unaccountable to the government and the public. The use of private prisons was reduced in the Obama administration but with Donald Trump’s presidency he has overturned many of the policies that Obama had put in place. On Nov. 9, the day after Mr. Trump won, the Corrections Corporation of America (now CoreCivic), the nation’s biggest operator of private prisons, saw its stock price jump 43 percent; its leading competitor, the GEO Group, rose 21 percent.


Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed the Obama administration policy to reduce the use of privatized prisons.

Public correctional facilities have no reason to hide their wrongdoings; they can do this without fear, because they rarely lose their contracts because of it. The issue with private prisons is they have the possibility of losing a contract. This leads to major consequences. There are several examples of terrible practices that have been covered up for this reason. In Mississippi, investigators found there was issues of physical and sexual abuse in a juvenile private prison. A report by the Justice Department describes "systemic, egregious and dangerous practices" at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility. Conditions included prison guards having sex with the incarcerated individuals, beating and using excessive force as a first response, showing indifference for the procession of homemade knives used in gang fights and inmate rapes, and guards having gang affiliations.


These private prison companies have a financial incentive to keep people incarcerated and to run the prisons as leanly as possible, so pay and staffing levels plunge and conditions often become inhumane.


Donald Trump’s presidency has been a major asset to the private prison system. Trump has increased the private prisons’ ability to build more immigration detention centers, with actions like this one: “On February 21, 2017, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the August 18, 2016 memorandum from former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates directing the Bureau of Prisons to reduce and ultimately eliminate the use of privately operated prisons.”


The United States has only 5% of the world’s population nearly 25% of the world’s prisoners. There was a boom of incarcerations in recent years as a result of the “War on Drugs,” which introduced harsh sentencing and reducing alternatives. The private prisons in the state of Texas operate in the shadows. The public is blind to many of the things happening in these facilities. Private prisons can work without releasing their records making it very difficult to see the going on of the prisons.


These private facilities are un-American. Letting people rot in these places is unforgivable. This demands change and to ignore it is completely and utterly inhuman.