Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

From the Editor

By Paul Wright

Karl Marx wrote that history repeats itself, first as tragedy then as farce. Sadly, the history of prison privatization in America is anything but farcical. Through much of the 19th century many prisons and jails in the US were privately operated or run with the prisoners being kept by private businesses in exchange for their labor. By the early 20th century wide swaths of the American gulag were being run by the convict leasing system and much of the early American road system was built by such prison slave labor.

At the beginning of the 20th century, American public opinion was turning against private prisons as their corruption and brutality became better known. By the time of the Depression in 1929 local, state and the federal government were the sole managers of the American gulag, with often dismal results. That status quo remained until the early 1980s when we saw a return of private prisons, first with Corrections Corporation of America and then private, for profit health companies like Prison Health Services.

Forty years later, it is readily apparent why the private prison industry has previously been shut down and run out of business. This issue’s cover story on Naphcare is pretty much the same as every story we have run on private, for profit prison health care companies. Their entire business model is premised on the notion that they get the government to pay as much as possible for health care and then they deliver as little as possible. The HMO from hell business model. The tragedy of course is that it necessarily kills, cripples and maims untold hundreds or thousands of sick prisoners who actually need medical care each year.

The harm these companies inflict is seen as a necessary by product of their greed and desire for profit. Of course, government run prison and jail health care is rarely any better in terms of medical outcomes. One of the big lies of privatized health care is that somehow this will save the government money. Four decades into the prison privatization experience and no one has shown that governments save any money. While the private corporations may do the job for less money, that price differential simply becomes their corporate profit.

The miserable and deadly failings of private health care companies are well known and well documented. For decades the story and pattern remain the same yet with the possible exception of Virginia, no prison or jail that has privatized their health care system has reverted it back to government control. Scandals, exposes, body counts and corruption simply leads to a new contractor coming in who does as bad or worse a job than their predecessor did. To date, no one in a position of power in the US seems concerned about it and if anything, the privatization of prison health care is accelerating not slowing down. We will continue reporting on developments as they occur.

Enjoy this issue of PLN and encourage others to subscribe.  

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login