Mass Incarceration: Privatizing Prisons and Funding Distrust

Media used: Criminal (In)Justice, David Harris, February 6, 2018, LINK

          The media source I reviewed is the 75th episode of the podcast Criminal (In)Justice titled “Punishment for Profit.” This episode of the podcast focuses on the issues of the privatization of the prison industrial complex and the concerns that arise when the duration of an offender’s stay in the facility has a direct link to the pockets of those in charge of the facility. This episode brings Lauren-Brooke Eisen, the author of Inside Private Prisons: An American Dilemma in the Age of Mass Incarceration, sharing their expertise in the matter in order to shed light on the issue. Some major points of the arguments made include the topics of expansion into immigration, hidden costs of the privatized prisons, and the guaranteed bed provision.

An argument raised by Eisen is the questionability of adding immigration to the pool of inmates that are covered by private corporations given their vulnerable and delicate situation. Due to the political environment and the concerns over quality, is it safe to entrust this party into the care of a profit-oriented facility? The second element Eisen covers is that the costs of private prisons are often underestimated, leaving out the money that must be put into oversight. Much like a public correctional facility, private facilities must be monitored to ensure they are up to code, observing policies, and not involving themselves in questionable or illegal acts. Eisen goes on to mention that in most studies, these figures are not factored into the total cost in an analysis of the money saved through the use of privatized corrections. In regard to money being saved, money can often be lost as a result of the guaranteed bed provisions. Eisen explains that these provisions charge the state based on the number of beds available rather than filled, effectively encouraging the state to fill the prison to capacity in order to ensure that they are not losing money. This often becomes an issue when deciding to continue or cancel a contract with a private prison, giving the prison power over the government due to the fact that the government has to decide whether or not they can handle the massive influx of prisoners that would accompany the closing of a facility packed to capacity. These are just a few of the issues brought up in the podcast and the wealth of knowledge offered by Eisen is much larger and goes further in depth on these issues.

It is worth noting that even if there is no injustice going in with the system of privatized corrections, simply seeming like there is injustice can spark tensions between law enforcement and the community. More specifically, the Black and Hispanic community due to the higher rates of incarceration compared to Whites. Relations between the Black community and law enforcement are especially strained in the current political climate, a fact that is not helped by disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates as well as longer overall sentences. According to Hager, blacks are 2.5 times more likely to be arrested than whites (as cited in Davis, 2018), which often leads to an inherent distrust of the law enforcement. When this is further complicated by their overwhelming presence in prisons, making up nearly 35 percent of prison populations (Davis, 2018) along with the data collected from the U.S. Sentencing Commission that observed an increase of sentence length of 19.5 percent for black men compared to their white counterparts.( Davis, 2018) When these factors are introduced to the knowledge that people are actively profiting off the prison industrial complex, doubts and concerns will understandably be raised and may incite further distrust between the Black community and the Criminal Justice System.

This growth of distrust does not stop with just blacks, especially given the political climate surrounding illegal immigration in the United States. According to the Department of Homeland Security in 2016, nearly 65 percent of the immigrant-detained population is held within privatized detention centers (Menjívar, et. al., 2018). As mentioned in the podcast, this is in no way to suggest there is anything insidious going on or any ill will, this point is only brought up to identify a possible source of distrust and concern. When nearly two thirds of the facilities are profit based, how can it shift the focus of the institution from wanting to keep inmates out from the idea that full beds are good? The recent waves of aggressive immigration enforcement and the previous criminalization of immigration, such as the upgrading of the offense of reentry after being deported to an aggravated felony add to this concern (Menjívar, et. al., 2018). How does this reflect on the criminal justice system?

This episode of the Criminal (In)Justice podcast is a perfect way for anyone looking to expand their thinking on the topic of the interaction between mass incarceration and the privatization of prisons. The audio quality from Eisen leaves something to be desired and may require multiple attempts to understand at times. In regard to the quality of the information and the guest speaker themselves, the episode is thought provoking and aims to inform rather than impose opinions. While this review focused more on the issues expressed by Eisen, the podcast also covers the finer qualities of a system of privatized prisons, a refreshing experience. In its entirety, episode 75 is an impressive delve into critical thinking topics that commonly arise when privatization is involved.




Davis, A. J. (Ed.). (2017). Policing the Black man: Arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment. Vintage Books.

Menjívar, C., Gómez Cervantes, A., & Alvord, D. (2018). The expansion of “crimmigration,” mass detention, and deportation. Sociology Compass, 12(4), e12573.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *