by Derek Gilna
As public and legislative pressure builds to reduce the number of prisoners held in state and federal correctional facilities, the private prison industry has changed gears to offer rehabilitative and treatment services – a shift criticized in a February 2016 report titled “Incorrect Care: A Prison Profiteer Turns Care into Confinement.” The report, published by Grassroots Leadership, a non-profit organization, claims that this latest venture is part of the “treatment industrial complex” – a nod to the confluence of political, social and business interests known as the prison industrial complex.
As an increasing number of states have taken modest steps to rein in mass incarceration, the nation’s prison population leveled off in 2010 and has declined very slightly in recent years. As a result, private prison companies such as CoreCivic (formerly CCA) and the GEO Group have begun diversifying their business practices, including expanding into such areas as community corrections, reentry facilities and GPS monitoring for people on community supervision.
For example, CoreCivic has acquired Correctional Alternatives, Inc., Correctional Management, Inc. and Avalon Correctional Services – all community corrections providers, while in February 2017 the GEO Group announced its purchase of Community Education Centers (CEC), which operates reentry and treatment facilities. GEO also owns BI, Inc., one of the largest providers of GPS monitoring.
In March 2016, Politico noted that this new approach by private prison firms “depends not on being effective [in rehabilitating prisoners], but in keeping as many people as possible under supervision for as long as possible. The lengthier, deeper and more expansive the treatment, the greater the profit.”
As one example, the Grassroots Leadership report followed the evolution of Correct Care Solutions (CCS). CCS operated seven “treatment facilities,” consisting of five mental health centers and two civil commitment centers in Florida, Texas and South Carolina. The company had sought to exploit those states’ attempts to reduce their prison populations by transferring resources to privately-operated treatment facilities.
To build its business, CCS relied on the tried-and-true method of intensive lobbying of local officials and state legislators, as well as contributing substantial sums of money to political campaigns.
According to Grassroots Leadership, in the state of Texas alone, “GEO and CCS doubled their investments in ... lobbyists from 2011 to 2015.” Lobbyists reportedly over-promised the cost savings that could be achieved by privatizing “treatment centers” – savings that can only be realized by offering limited mental health care and substandard facilities.
Texas’ 43 percent spike in forensic commitments to state hospitals over the twelve-year period from 2001 to 2013 put that state’s mental health facilities in crisis and created an opportunity for private prison operators to increase their market share.
However, many Texas mental health experts, such as Lynn Laskey Clark, president and CEO of Mental Health America of Texas, warned that the privatization trend is compromising patient care and resulting in additional confinement of people who may not need treatment, or who need treatment more sophisticated than that provided by for-profit operators.
“The most critical components of mental health care are patient safety and quality of care. Privately run facilities, operating with a profit motive, can put one or both of those in jeopardy,” said Clark.
Politico reported that in a New York facility in which CCS had provided medical care, more than 40 prisoners sued the company for inadequate treatment. In one case, “Correct Care Solutions staff returned a man to his jail cell after he complained of chest pains because they believed he was faking. He was dead less than four hours later.”
The Grassroots Leadership report made several recommendations for improving the operation of privately-run treatment facilities. It noted that while “elected officials and government appointees are obligated to share information with constituents ... private companies seem to be more informed than local stakeholders.” The report recommended tracking private prison and lobbying groups’ campaign contributions, because “by tracking their investments, advocates can provide opportunities to interrupt their tactics, getting to public officials first or exposing their relationships.”
Further, in an article published by Politico, Grassroots Leadership’s Mental Health Campaign coordinator Cate Graziani and Georgetown University Law Center professor Arjun Sethi advocated that Congress should pass the Justice is Not for Sale Act. That legislation, which will likely be reintroduced later this year, “prohibits the federal government, states and localities from contracting with private corporations to run prisons and immigrant detention facilities.”
The report concluded that policymakers should end their “dependence on the criminal justice system and the companies that back that system.” It noted that all too often, providing alternatives to prison or jail only “recreate[s] new forms of incarceration and new avenues for profiteering.” Rather, it suggested that “public policies must move away from surveillance and confinement altogether and promote community-based solutions to public safety issues.”
Although that would, of course, mean less revenue for companies that rely on a steady supply of prisoners, probationers, parolees and other people enmeshed in the criminal justice system in order to generate profit.
Sources: www.grassrootsleadership.org, www.politico.com, www.huffingtonpost.com, Associated Press
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