Do the math. If something costs less, there’s generally something lesser about it. “You get what you pay for.”
The whole point to private prisons is that they should cost taxpayers less than the publicly-administered alternative. And the way the private prison industry does this is to spend less — on staffing levels, on salaries, training, insurance, and benefits for their workers — and to give less in services to the prisoners.
For great insight into what this means in real life, check out – on our website davemarash.com – a HERE & THERE with Shane Bauer, about his time undercover as a guard at a private prison in Louisiana.
Shortly after Bauer published in Mother Jones, CCA, The Corrections Corporation of America figured out what it would cost in reputation and money to stay at, and rehabilitate the Winn Correctional Center. So, they closed it, and re-branded the company as CoreCivic, putting the old CCA brand into the memory-shredder.
From the very first, Federal studies of the privatized prison system detailed how inferior the services for prisoners were, but, as the studies continued over time, they found that the costs of the private prisons weren’t cheaper. In part because of hidden, or shifted costs. Take, for example, when poor prison medical care sends a prisoner to the local hospital. We, not they, get the bill.
Fine investigative reporting by Seth Freed Wessler for The Nation last year showed, again from the first evaluations to the latest monitors’ reports, that one of the most persistent problems at private prisons is the quality of the medical care.
Among the worst of the worst Federal institutions, Wessler reported in 2016 was “The Cibola County Correctional Center, a [then-]CCA facility in New Mexico, [which] has accumulated more repeat deficiencies or significant findings in health services than any other private federal prison currently in operation. Since 2007, 30 of its 34 citations related to medical care.”
Investigations suggest all 3 of the prisoner deaths at the Cibola facility were caused by poor or absent on-site medical care.
In 2016, the Cibola Federal facility, which — by the way — was reserved for non-citizens, most of them ticketed for deportation back to Mexico or Central America, was closed, as the Obama Administration cut back on all Federal prison contracts with private companies.
Now it’s 2017, and Cibola prison is back in operation, and CoreCivic, the new Corrections Corporation of America, is back in charge, working now, not for the Bureau of Prisons, Department of Justice but for ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security.
Now they serve a different subset of the same non-citizen prison population. But the difference is important: in the old Federal prison the population were convicted criminals. 88% of the current ICE prisoners have never been accused of anything beyond crossing the border. Many of them are still hoping for asylum in the US.
What seems to be no different at Cibola is the bottom-of-the-barrel services for the prisoners.
Sarah Macaraeg is an investigative reporter based in Albuquerque, NM. She has reported on private prisons in New Mexico for the Criminal Justice Project and NM In Depth. She has been an Investigative Reporters and Editors and New America Media fellow based in Chicago. Her investigations into Chicago Police accountability have been published by the Guardian, VICE and Truthout, included in the anthology Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? and cited by Al Jazeera America, ColorLines, Crain’s Chicago Business and Fusion. Macaraeg’s narrative journalism features include a Best American Essays notable and a book on women workers across Chicago, forthcoming from Haymarket Books in 2017. Follow her on Twitter: @seramak.