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A Constitutional Challenge to For-Profit Incarceration


"Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on." - Thurgood Marshall

Our Future Is at Stake

Private prison corporations make more money for their shareholders when more people are incarcerated and for longer terms, profiting off the ruination of families and societal decay that comes from mass incarceration.

These financial incentives are perverse and unethical. We believe this circumstance also violates the Constitution of the United States. We are determined to have our day before the U.S. Supreme Court to abolish for-profit incarceration throughout the United States.

The perverse financial incentives encourage mass incarceration and longer sentences, even for non-violent and victim-less crimes. These incentives also discourage decriminalization, early release for good conduct, alternatives to expensive incarceration, and programs that lower the chances of repeat offenses. We can anticipate that soon these corporations will sell services to police and prosecutors to make sure that their prisons stay filled. The for-profit prison industry exists in more than 30 states, contracts with four federal agencies and has gone global, expanding onto other continents. Prison corporations are diversifying, creating subsidiaries for immigration detention, for-profit probation, parole, community corrections, fine collection, bail bonds, and ankle bracelets.

Is this a future we want? Where even more people's lives become entangled in the criminal justice system in the name of profits?

CoreCivic's "Large and Under-Penetrated Market"

In its 2010 annual report, CoreCivic, formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America, the largest operator of private prisons in the US, told its investors:

"Our growth is generally dependent upon our ability to obtain new contracts to develop and manage new correctional and detention facilities. . . . The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction and sentencing practices or through decriminalization of certain activities."

The pie chart below outlines CoreCivic's bullish designs on acquiring much more of the existing prisoner inventories that were valued at $70 billion in 2010 - that number has continued to grow, and currently sits north of $80 billion.

Some terrible real-life consequences of profit incentives within criminal justice

To be certain, our cause is not about whether public or private prisons are better -- our cause is about whether private prisons should exist at all.

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Why are so many groups calling for abolition?

Simply stated, because government makes it very profitable for large corporations to imprison people, we will imprison more people. A number of legal, faith-based, secular, and labor organizations have called for abolition, prohibition, divestment, and moratoriums on the use of private prisons, such as the Japanese American Citizens League, NAACP, The Movement for Black Lives, National Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers, AFL-CIO, #RealMoneyMoves, Chicago Teachers Pension Fund, California State Teachers Retirement System, United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church (including a letter hand-delivered to governors), Unitarian Universalist Church, and many others. For more information, please visit our website.

The Goal

To support the legal team needed for a constitutional challenge, from filing the lawsuit to receiving a decision from the United States Supreme Court, we have set out to raise $500,000 before January 1, 2020.

A legal challenge is winnable. It will be a hard fight, and winnable nonetheless. Society's assumption should not be that private prisons are constitutional. Our query should start with "Why does anyone think that they are constitutional?"

In 1990, the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association passed a resolution recommending that "jurisdictions that are considering the privatization of prisons and jails not proceed . . . until the complex constitutional, statutory, and contractual issues are satisfactorily developed and resolved." The recommendation was ignored, and the industry boomed.

Since that time, legal scholars continue to question the constitutionality of private prisons.

We now have a 30-year history of serious problems with private prisons. Some of the problems - like higher costs and less safety - are finally out in the open. In 2009 the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that prison privatization violates Israel's Basic Law, reasoning that privatized incarceration is a human rights violation. It is time we put citizens' rights before shareholders' interests and obtain the same result in the United States.

Your tax-deductible contribution will provide vital funding for building the infrastructure necessary to win a fight of this scale. Every single dollar will bring us one step closer to our goal of Abolishing Private Prisons. Please join the fight today.

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What is Abolish Private Prisons?

Abolish Private Prisons is a tax-exempt non-profit corporation dedicated to challenging the constitutionality of incarcerating people for profit. We will file federal lawsuits to take the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Why abolish private prisons?

Crime and Punishment

Enforcement of criminal laws, including incarceration, is government's responsibility alone. Government officials abandon their responsibility to the public when they delegate incarceration to the private marketplace.

Justice, not Profits

The United States imprisons one-fourth of the world's prison population. Mass incarceration and its causes are societal ills that cry out for solutions. But private for-profit incarceration injects perverse financial incentives -- profits -- into our criminal justice system. Private prison corporations profit immensely from mass incarceration and recidivism, and they spend lavishly on legislative lobbying and political campaigns to put more people in their prisons.

Modern Slavery

Private prisons are paid like hotels. Each person's body in a private prison cell represents a unit of profit on prison corporation balance sheets. Stock values of publicly-traded prison corporations go up as forecasts of the number of people in private prison cells go up. People in private prisons are treated as commodities and often are transferred hundreds if not thousands of miles from their home communities to far-away private prisons so that prison corporations can make big profits (e.g., Hawaii sending prisoners to Arizona -- and not surprisingly, a disproportionate percentage of those prisoners are Indigenous Hawaiians, an already disadvantaged community).

Corporate Profits vs. Human Rights

The status of the jailer matters. Private prisons seek high occupancy rates and have no incentive to release prisoners. They make more money when prisoners stay longer and when they return to prison. There is strong evidence of excessive violence in private prisons as they cut staffing and rehabilitative programs to increase profits, and they write incident reports that affect early-release time credits and eligibility for parole. Everyone wins when people released from prisons successfully re-enter their communities. But high rates of recidivism mean higher profits for private prisons, paid for by taxpayers.

How This Affects Everyone

Mass incarceration drastically and disproportionately affects people of color, people who are homeless and poor, people with mental illnesses,and immigrants. These groups are at even higher risk when incarceration becomes a profit-making venture for powerful corporations and their friends. But even those in privileged positions will be affected as people they know and care about suffer the impact. Profiteering is color-blind and undermines the integrity of our justice system.

Private Prison Lobbying

Government spends billions of tax dollars each year on private for-profit prisons. These prison corporations have spent tens of millions of dollars on political campaigns and lobbying for laws that sustain mass incarceration. Such efforts help private prison corporations garner 20-year contracts with government guarantees of high occupancy rates. Private prisons seek not only more of the "prisoner inventory," but also to increase the size of the "pie" -- i.e., having more people in prisons and for longer periods.

Misplaced Priorities

Taxpayers spend as much to incarcerate one person for a year in prison as they would to pay a resident's in-state tuition, room, and board at a state university, yet elected officials continue to use taxpayer funds to sustain the politically powerful private prison industry and its powerful opposition to reform.

Who runs private prisons?

In the United States, three corporations dominate the private prison industry: CoreCivic, GeoGroup, and MTC. They house more than 90% of inmates in private prisons. These corporations are granted total operational control of prisons under government contracts.

Join the cause of abolishing private for-profit prisons today

Like a cancer, these perverse profit incentives to take away liberty are spreading and taking new forms such as for-profit probation, for-profit parole and for-profit immigration detention. This is the time to take dramatic action. Please join the cause now: Make a donation and help us spread the word. THANK YOU!

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