Prisons As Growth Industry

Anthony Pignataro:

The United States today has about 2.3 million people in jail and prison — roughly 754 per 100,000 residents. Put into a global context, the U.S. holds about 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. This is, according to this new report by the San Francisco-based Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, a very big industry indeed.

“About $69 billion is being spent each year on the correctional system,” the report notes. “In California, between 1998 and 2009, the prison budget grew from $3.5 billion to $10.3 billion.”

Opportunities abound for those seeking big bucks, and we’re not just talking prison building, either, though that did brisk business in the 1990s, with the opening of 371 new facilities. No, some of the biggest money-making opportunities in our vaunted prison industry are in telecommunications.

“Such industry giants as AT&T, Bell South, Sprint, GTE… and MCI have found prisons to be an excellent market for long distance business,” states the report. “Part of the revenue comes from the charging of various connection fees, surcharges and per-minute charges ranging from as high as 90 cents for lcoal calls and $2.25 for long-distance calls, with in some cases a 15-minute phone call costing $20 or m0re… At one point MCI installed, for free, pay phones throughout the California prison system. They levied a $3 surcharge for each phone call made, the cost of which is paid for by the prisoner’s relatives. MCI offerd the California Department of Corrections 32 percent of the profits.”

Who says California corrections bureaucrats lack creativity?

The whole report is filled with fun facts like that. Oh, and before anyone gets the idea that the move towards profiting from prisons is just part of the Republican dream of privatizing government and making it smaller, the study’s authors mischievously point out the following:

“[D]uring a 40 year period (1962-2001) the total of non-defense government employees rose by 310,000 during Republican administrations, while during Democratic administrations there was an increase of just 59,000.”

DEC. 13, 2010

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