Governor Jerry Brown's proposal to temporarily blunt California's prison crisis by moving thousands of California's prisoners into for-profit private prisons is receiving much-deserved criticism. The proposal, quickly working its way through the state assembly, would use nearly all of the state's $1.1 billion budget surplus on prison contract spending.
The two-year, $700 million giveaway will also most likely enrich troubled private prison corporations like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group while doing little to address California's long-term prison crisis.
For-profit prison corporations have turned outsourced incarceration into a billion-dollar business. Over the past 30 years, private prison companies have earned a track record marred with mismanagement, human rights abuses, and indifference to the health and safety of those incarcerated in their facilities.
Despite their histories, industry giants Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group have reaped billions in profits for Wall Street investors. Prison corporations create profits by slashing salaries and benefits to staff and services and programs to incarcerated people. The result is high staff turnover rates and volatile and dangerous prisons that don't enhance public safety.
The record has not been good. The CCA-operated Idaho Correctional Center became known as "Gladiator School," earning its nickname from the persistent outbreaks of violence at times watched by CCA guards. The state recently announced it would not renew its contract with CCA after the company admitted that it had falsified at least 4,800 staffing hours.
In Texas, the birthplace of the modern for-profit prison industry, the state is moving to close two private prisons this week. One of those facilities is the CCA-operated Dawson State Jail, where horrific stories of medical neglect included the deaths of several incarcerated women and a baby girl who died four days after being born in the facility with no medical personnel present.
With these records, how do these companies continue to win such lucrative contracts? Part of the answer lies where the companies invest their profits. CCA and GEO both have spent millions of dollars in campaign contributions and lobbyists to ensure their interests are met.
What's good for Wall Street prison interests is not necessarily good for the state of California. Better solutions -- including earned release programs and the parole of frail and elderly prisoners -- should be explored before pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into for-profit prisons.
Thankfully, a movement is coalescing in California to dump the Brown plan and curb wasteful prison spending. My organization, Grassroots Leadership, has also launched a petition calling on lawmakers to abandon the private prison giveaway.
It's time for real solutions, not throwing endless money into a broken prison system.