Prisons For Fun And Profit




T

he game

Prison Tycoon

, the newest
release in the Tycoon PC game series, describes itself as follows:


Prison Tycoon

allows you to build and run your very
own correctional facility from the comfort of your own home, on
your PC. Control the layout of your prison buildings and the arrangement
of the rooms and facilities within them. Place dormitories and cellblocks,
mess halls and gymnasiums, but don’t expect to be able to build
death row right away.” 



Prison Tycoon

would be just another in a string of relatively
offensive video games (think

Grand Theft Auto

) if it were
farfetched fiction. Instead,

Prison Tycoon

is a reflection
of one of the fastest growing and most nefarious legal industries
in the United States. 


As the game promises, “In

Prison Tycoon

, you’re
at the ground floor of the country’s largest growth industry.”
And that’s no lie. Real prison tycoons exist and they’re
getting rich heading companies called Corrections Corporation of
America (NYSE:CXW) and the GEO Group (NYSE:GGI). Yes, the NYSE logos
mean you can buy and trade in prisons on the stock exchange. 


George Zoley, the CEO of GEO Group, makes over $3.6 million a year
in total compensation. CCA’s John Ferguson draws in just under
$3 million in his role overseeing the country’s 5th largest
prison system of over 62,000 prisoners. 


Unfortunately, what’s good for prison tycoons isn’t nearly
as good for the rest of us. Last summer the federal government announced
that there were nearly 2.2 million people in prisons in the United
States—almost twice as many as were imprisoned 10 years ago.
In fact, while the United States has roughly 8 percent of the world’s
total population, it incarcerates nearly 25 percent of the world’s
imprisoned population. 


Nationwide, the bulk of the newly incarcerated are young people
of color, who have been convicted of nonviolent drug offenses, and
immigrants who are being incarcerated under harsh new “coun
terterrorism” laws and policies.  


The Presbyterian Church, Uni ted Methodists, and all 48 Southern
Catholic Bishops have criticized forprofit prisons as having a vested
interest in incarceration. Beyond the moral dilemma posed by incarceration
for profit, it is increasingly clear that forprofit prison operators
produce more volatile and violent prisons. 


Criminologist James Austin found that privatized prisons have 49
percent to 65 percent higher rates of violence against both inmates
and guards. These effects largely come from costsaving measures
implemented to ensure profits, such as cutting the number of guards
and trimming programs for education and rehabilitation. 








Private
prisons are banking on a crackdown on undocumented workers to fill
prison beds. In Texas alone, there are over 7,500 recently built
or proposed private prison beds solely designed to house federal
detainees—almost all of whom are immigrants held on nonviolent
charges. 


 Last month, the

Austin


AmericanStatesman

reported
that the Corrections Corporation of America had received a contract
from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to incarcerate detained
immigrant families awaiting deportation in it’s Don T. Hutto
facility in Taylor, Texas. The Hutto facility will be the second
such “family prison” in the country. 


Imprisoned immigrant families probably won’t be featured in
the

Prison Tycoon

game. Instead, we’ll be treated with
the other, less human side of the prison system in the U.S.—making
big bucks operating prisons.





Bob
Libal is cocoordinator of the grassroots leadership’s Not With
Our Money campaign in Austin, Texas.