Capital Punishment: An Introduction To U.S. Prison Spending

Matt Stroud, a national freelance writer, would like some help from experts on restortative justice in researching the issue of private prisons. It's fair to say this timely subject could use a hundred people like him. This blog item he posted in Forbes Magazine shows how to reach him.


FORBES Magazine 01/29/2013

by, Matt Stroud

When the State of Ohio sold a medium-security prison to Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America last year, CCA assured state officials that the facility’s 1,543 prisoners would be treated no differently than they were under the state’s control. In time, CCA insisted, the state would save millions by outsourcing incarceration to a private firm.

But late last month those assurances began to sound hollow.

In the year since CCA took over, the Dayton Daily News recently reported that state auditors found “inmate complaints about prison gangs, assaults and other problems have doubled…, staff turnover has been more than 20 percent and violent incidents increased 21 percent inside the medium-security prison….”

Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is now on the hook for managing the prison’s new deficiencies — and that’s a cost no one in the state bargained for.

While these circumstances are particular to Ohio, they’re part of a much larger story playing out every day, all over the country: County, state, and federal authorities, stuck with an incarcerated population that’s increased as much as eightfold in the last 40 years, are being forced to rethink how they manage prisons, how state budgets allocate spending toward corrections, and whether the criminal justice system should retool certain laws to lock up only the most violent criminals instead of those with minor violations or drug charges.

Private corporations are a big part of this. CCA, the largest private prison contractor in the United States, is worth $3.7 billion and houses more than 80,000 prisoners in 16 states as well as the Federal Bureau of Prisons, more than a dozen local municipalities, and Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It’s just one player in a big business that affects the lives of millions and involves billions in annual expenditures nationwide.

And that’s why I’m here. Over years of reporting for media outlets large and small about prisons and prisoners, I’ve developed a prison complex — an infatuation not only with the stories of crimes that land people behind bars, but the economic realities that’ve emerged from the “prison-industrial complex,” the ever expanding enterprise surrounding incarceration in the U.S.

While recent years have seen prison populations decline in some jurisdictions, the trend in recent decades has been indisputable: A larger and larger percentage of the U.S. population is being locked up, and government agencies nationwide are in the position of paying for it. With this blog, I plan to track how that happens — and to hopefully share some peripheral knowledge along the way.

I welcome tips, recommendations, questions, anonymous leaks, and/or concerns. I can be reached perpetually via email at matt DOT stroud AT yahoo DOT com. You can also reach me or follow me on Twitter @ssttrroouudd, be my Friend on Facebook, or connect with me on LinkedIn.