By Rachel Barkin
In response to the overflow of prison inmates around 2006, California lawmakers contracted two corporations (GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America) to open five private prisons across the state. Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced creating private prisons would resolve the issue of maximum capacity and reduce costs for the state.
Private prisons were intended to alleviate financial burdens but in practice accumulated more costs, increased rates of recidivism, and lead to egregious civil rights abuses of inmates.
Current California Governor Gavin Newsom backs Assembly Bill 32 prohibiting the state from “entering into or renewing a contract with a private, for-profit prison to incarcerate state prison inmates.” After January 1, 2028, the bill would also prohibit a state prison inmate from being incarcerated in a private prison facility. This bill responds to the draconian nature of private prisons and mass incarceration of California inmates.
Unlike public prisons owned by the state, corporate-owned private prisons run a business model of maximizing profits and minimizing costs. These corporations have a financial incentive to increase the number of people behind bars because they are paid $29,399 per inmate, and their shareholders depend on this profit. To maintain the flow of inmates, private prisons notoriously lobby for harsher prison sentences, follow practices increasing recidivism, and charge the state a fine if they do not reach full capacity. Several former California governors, including Schwarzengger, received thousands of dollars in campaign donations from private prison corporations.
The Department of Justice found the likelihood of a newly released convict being readmitted into prison increases if previously held under a private prison. A study of 8,400 Florida juvenile prisoners found released convicts, formerly incarcerated in a private prison, were 7.3 to 8.5 more likely to become repeat offenders than inmates who resided in a public prison. The increase in recidivism within private prisons is largely attributed to the lack of prison guards, as well as sufficient programs and services providing basic necessities for inmates. Private prisons can charge less per inmate because they deprive inmates of rehabilitative programs, mental health services, contact with family members, and adequate food. Both GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America have faced lawsuits for maltreatment of inmates. In the recent California wildfires, these corporations have used inmates as firefighters paying one to two dollars for a 72 hour, deadly shift.
These poor conditions and exploitative prison labor cause inmates to be unprepared to readjust into society once released, which benefits the private prisons profiting off of their return. Understaffed and underpaid prison guards leads to more physical altercations, and violence among inmates has been proven to foster more aggressive, repeat offenders. It is questionable whether California taxpayers save money from cheaper private prisons when those prisoners are more likely to be readmitted and become more violent.
As a California resident, you have the option to tell your representatives that you support AB-32 because private prisons are not aligned with the values of our state. Mass incarceration created by corporate-backed prisons exploits inmates and prison guards, burdens taxpayers, and harms low-income communities and families.
To support this bill in a matter of seconds, download the Click My Cause app and select the organization “Orchard City Indivisible.” AB-32 will appear under “Bill Actions,” and once you click on the bill, a prewritten message to your State Representative will appear. Act now to ensure a crucial step towards reforming the California criminal justice system is made.