THE BLOG
01/02/2014 03:06 pm ET | Updated Mar 03, 2014

Rejoinder to 'Brazil's Growing Inmate Population Might Require the Privatization of Prisons'

Patricia Rey Mallén, who covers Latin America for the International Business Times, penned "Brazil's Growing Inmate Population Might Require the Privatization of Prisons" in the International Business Times, December 24, 2013.

According to a BBC News Report, Brazil has the fourth largest incarcerated population in the world, where 193 out of every 100,000 people are incarcerated for various crimes.

However, instead of exploring opportunities to reduce its prison population, Brazil is seeking solutions to expand its market by virtue of privatizing the countries prisons. These flirtations with private prisons are eerily similar to the United States' path to reestablishing the for-profit prison market. The impetus for both the United States and Brazil appears to be the burgeoning prison population, impacting Brazil's prison capacity and its government's ability to spend money on education and housing.

The debate in the United States regarding how the commoditization of prisoners is facilitated by the corporatization of prisons feeds the fears expressed by the some government officials in Brazil that inmates will be treated as products. This fear carries significant merit.

An article on the web site Black Blue Dog reports that Corrections Corporation of America issued a massive dividend of $675 million to shareholders in April of 2013. Based on this payout, it is apparent that incarceration has been effectively commoditized in the United States. Consider that an undergraduate degree from Harvard costs about $40,000 a year for a full-time student. Imagine how many scholarships $675 million could give to deserving students? Or, how many affordable housing units could be developed for the underserved, or how much of the $675 million could have gone into social services for the country's poor? Furthermore, in São Paulo, according to Angelica Mari of Brazil Tech, "the government is spending approximately R$1,1bi ($484 mi) in the implementation of technology designed to block the cell phone signal at maximum-security penitentiaries across the state." A more impactful way to use this money is to spend the money on the "Bolsa Familia" initiative launched under President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in 2002. The program is credited with lifting 22 million Brazilians out of poverty.

São Paulo Secretary of Penitentiaries Lourival Gomes suggests that "... private companies have more resources to hire employers, like doctors, and keep them on file. It is harder for the public entities." Mr. Gomes is woefully mistaken/misguided in his beliefs if he thinks that private prisons are willing to spend more money than the government to create a more humane environment for inmates. To date, I cannot find one iota of proof that a private prison has acted contrary to its mission of maximizing shareholder wealth.

One of the first actions of private corporations that own and manage prisons in the United States is to cut labor costs. As an example, inmates with minor healthcare issues in private prisons typically receive appropriate healthcare; however, those with serious illnesses like HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and other communicable diseases are referred to the State which ultimately picks up the costs for those inmates. Contrary to Gomes' belief, having a doctor on file does not necessarily guarantee that inmates will receive quality healthcare especially given the fact that private prisons are committed to maximizing shareholder wealth above the welfare of inmates.

Mallén observes that private prisons in Brazil are not always financially viable and are choosy. Congressman Cearás Domingos Dutra of Brazil supports Mallén's observation. The same observations Mallén and the Congressman from Brazil made have also been found to be true here in the United States. For-profit prisons in the United States are less likely to manage maximum-security prisons, and have not been found to be financially viable. This is based on the fact that many municipalities, as well as state and local governments in the U.S. privatize their prisons without first conducting cost benefit analyses or exhibit a thorough and clear understanding of the actual cost to operate a prison. Therefore, the financial viability of private prisons in the United States has not been well established. To further obligate taxpayer funds without the proper level of due diligence should be considered illegal.

Before considering the privatization of additional prisons, Brazil should look at justice reinvestment strategies, which encourage reinvesting billions of dollars being spent on corrections into communities decimated by incarceration. Given the country's high incarceration rates among its young people in the favelas, schools are the first places where these dollars should be redirected. The schools in the favelas are severely underfunded, and the housing is equally as worse as the educational system. An even more egregious fact is that Brazil is 51 percent Afro-Brazilian, but has only one black college, which is privately funded.

The proposed solutions should be considered if Brazil considers exploring justice reinvestment strategies to reduce it prison populations. Brazil must invest in education and housing if the country hopes to become more attractive to investors. Presently, foreign direct investment is strong in the country, but if the country does not address these disparities the potential exists that the country may become less attractive to foreigners looking to invest. A concentrated focus on anti-poverty programs, decent and affordable housing, education, law enforcement prevention strategies which embrace restorative justice are ways in which Brazil can investigate the option of justice reinvestment strategies to help reduce its prison population.