Thursday, March 13, 2014

Why for-profit prisons fill with inmates of color

"Kids for Cash" is a shocking and riveting real-life documentary thriller that rivals fiction.

"Kids for Cash" examines the notorious true story of judicial scandal that has recently rocked the nation. Beyond the millions of dollars paid to corrupt judges to jail kids by private for-profit prisons, it exposes a shocking American secret. In the wake of the shootings at Columbine, a small town celebrates a law-and-order judge who is hell-bent on keeping kids "in line." Then one parent dares to question the real motives behind his brand of "justice." This real-life story reveals the untold stories of the masterminds at the center of the scandal to fill up for-profit prisons with any children available, guilty or not, and the chilling aftermath of lives destroyed in the process. It is a stunning emotional roller coaster.

A new study by a UC Berkeley graduate student has surprised a number of experts in the criminology field. Its main finding is that private prisons are packed with young people of color.
The concept of racial disparities behind bars is not new. Study after study, report after report, working group after working group has found a version of the same conclusion [ -- the country and courts are affected by ethnic prejudice, economic biases, and subtle racism that people find too uncomfortable to discuss or recognize]. 

Prisons for Profit (WQ)
The Sentencing Project estimates that one in three black men will spend time behind bars during their lifetime, compared to one in six Latino men, and one in seventeen white men. Arrest rates for marijuana possession are four times higher for black Americans than white Americans. 
Black men spend an average of 20 percent longer behind bars [when everything else is controlled for] in federal prisons than their white peers do for the same crimes.
These reports and thousands of others have the cumulative effect of portraying a criminal [in]justice system that disproportionately incarcerates black Americans and people of color in general.
An inmate walks through the yard at the North Central Correctional Institution in Marion, Ohio, which recently switched to private management.
Ruining lives the racist way: a young inmate of color walks through yard at the North Central Correctional Institution in Marion, Ohio, which recently switched to private for-pro management (Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty Images).
Int'l Women's Day, L.A. (WQ)
Berkeley sociology Ph.D. student Christopher Petrella's finding in "The Color of Corporate Corrections," however, tackles a different beast.

Beyond the historical over-representation of people of color in county jails and federal and state prisons, Petrella found that people of color "are further overrepresented in private prisons contracted by departments of correction in Arizona, California, and Texas."

This would mean that the racial disparities in private prisons housing state inmates are even greater than in publicly-run prisons. His paper sets out to explain why -- a question that starts with race, but takes him down a surprising path.

Age, race, and money
Prisoner (
First, let's look at a bit of background. Private prisons house 128,195 inmates on behalf of the federal government and state governments (in 2010 numbers, which have increased by 2014). There is a continual debate among legislators and administrators as to which is more cost effective -- running a government-operated prison, with its government workers (and unions), or hiring a private for-profit company (like GEO or Corrections Corporation of America) to house prisoners. States like California, Arizona, and Texas use a combination... More

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