Piper Kerman on "Horrific" Violations Associated with Private Prisons
Date:  06-23-2016

Orange is the New Black author relates how private prisons cost taxpayers millions while safety and human rights violations abound
The following article appeared in Fusion on June 17, 2016

With 2.3 million prisoners, America’s unprecedented maze of prisons and jails holds the biggest incarcerated population in the world. Inside our prison walls are men, women, and children who have been arrested and sometimes convicted. They are all doing their time and desperately need whatever help and rehabilitation they can get that will allow them to return to their families safely and successfully. When I served my federal prison sentence for a drug offense, I was part of a remarkable and unexpected community of women struggling for survival under difficult circumstances. After I was released, I wrote the book Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison about what I experienced and witnessed during my time behind bars.

Many Americans are surprised to learn that some prisons are operated by private companies with business models entirely dependent on the U.S. policy known as mass incarceration. The two largest private prison companies, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, collected $361 million in profits last year. Some private prison contracts require a 90% occupancy guarantee from government—if the beds aren’t full, the public pays penalties to the corporations. This profit motive creates obvious and profoundly perverse incentives that run counter to public safety and justice, while making it even harder for people to successfully return to their families and communities after being released. An increasing amount of research shows prisons held by private companies contribute to recidivism.

At the end of last season, fans of the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black,” created by Jenji Kohan, saw Litchfield prison taken over by a private prison corporation. In the new season, which starts today, we’ll watch the show’s fictional women prisoners continuing to find ways to survive together, but there’s a new pressure: the consequences of turning incarceration into a profit-making venture. After a flood of new transfers fills Litchfield to overflowing, the prison becomes painfully understaffed and under-resourced. This is true to reality—to maximize profit for their investors and reduce operational costs, private prisons often cut corners on staffing and other essentials of safety. The resulting safety and human rights violations in some privately operated prisons have been horrific. Continue reading