The questions private prisons raise

Is private management more efficient? Is it wrong to profit from punishment? Is the whole idea immoral in concept?

The United States incarcerates more individuals per capita than any other country in the world, currently 2.1 million. In the words of theologian T. Richard Snyder, our nation is pervaded by a “culture of punishment.”

Many readers of Michelle Alex­ander’s The New Jim Crow believe that the principal driver of mass incarceration was the War on Drugs, which began in earnest in the 1980s and targeted primarily black and brown men. In fact, there were several causes. The War on Drugs did produce an irrationally harsh criminal code, militarized law enforcement, and a federal antidrug bureaucracy that has had a devastating impact, especially on African American and Hispanic communities. But of the individuals imprisoned in the U.S. today, only about 20 percent are there be­cause of a drug-related crime. Lauren-Brooke Eisen sheds light on another part of the prison-industrial complex: the emergence of a for-profit, private-sector incarceration industry.

Private prisons generate intense de­bate. Are they immoral in concept? Isn’t it fundamentally wrong to profit from punish­ment? Do private prisons deliver greater efficiency and cost savings (the argument for privatizing other ser­vices such as waste management and highway maintenance)? Eisen considers these questions as she explores this controversial manifestation of corporate America.