Private Prisons and Family Values

When politicians talk about “family values,” they rarely mention the importance of family to prisoners. Most inmates will eventually be released. Some will quickly return to crime. Those who have been regularly visited by family members are less likely to recidivate. The importance of family to prisoners should come as no surprise to “family values” advocates, so why don’t they routinely speak out about news like this?

Chronic prison overcrowding has corrections officials in Hawaii and at least seven other states looking increasingly across state lines for scarce prison beds, usually in prisons run by private companies. Facing a court mandate, California last week transferred 40 inmates to Mississippi and has plans for at least 8,000 to be sent out of state. ...

About one-third of Hawaii’s 6,000 state inmates are held in private in Arizona, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Kentucky. Alabama has 1,300 prisoners in Louisiana. About 360 inmates from California, which has one of the nation’s most crowded prison systems, are in Arizona and Tennessee. ...

Paige M. Harrison, a researcher for the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, said the out-of-state inmates faced problems familiar to the large number of in-state prisoners incarcerated hundreds of miles from their homes. A study in 1997 found that more than 60 percent of state inmates were held more than 100 miles from their last place of residence.

Private prisons are a profitable business (one reason why “family values” politicians keep silent about the adverse impact they have on families), but privatization of corrections isn’t conducive to rehabilitation, particularly when the prisons are built far from the prisoner’s home.


Moving inmates from prison to prison disrupts training and rehabilitation programs and puts stress on tenuous family bonds, corrections officials say, making it more difficult to break the cycle of inmates committing new crimes after their release. Several recidivism studies have found that convicts who keep in touch with family members through visits and phone privileges are less likely to violate their parole or commit new offenses. ...

The frequent moves can also have a disruptive effect on prisons, whether the transfers occur within a state or not, corrections officials said. In California, a federal court official overseeing a revamping of the prison medical system reported more than 170,000 prisoner moves within the state in the first three months of this year. The moves were found to be inhibiting the ability of inmates to receive health care and draining resources.

In Arizona, where more than 2,000 inmates have been exported to prisons in Oklahoma and Indiana, corrections officials are struggling to provide consistent and effective programming for them, said Dora B. Schriro, the director of the Arizona Department of Corrections.

Sending a prisoner thousands of miles away to be warehoused in a private prison doesn't save money. After all, private prisons strive to make a profit, and that profit comes from our tax dollars.

But state governments often pay a premium for [private prison] spaces. The riot in [a private prison in] Indiana in April came after Ms. Schriro, the Arizona corrections director, agreed to pay about $14 million a year to house 610 prisoners there. That is about $3 million more than the state would have paid for inmates at in-state public prisons, said a spokeswoman for Arizona corrections, Robin Wilkins.

There are better approaches to prison overcrowding than filling private prisons. Eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and restoring parole would help, as would creating alternatives to incarceration for drug and other nonviolent crimes.

Overcrowding has been a problem in prisons for decades, and the country’s prison and jail population has never been higher, rising 2.8 percent from July 2005 to July 2006 to reach 2,245,189, according to the most recent Bureau of Justice Statistics bulletin. A report by the Pew Charitable Trusts estimates that the prison population will grow by another 192,000 in the next five years.
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    i read the article (none / 0) (#1)
    by cpinva on Tue Jul 31, 2007 at 05:05:14 PM EST
    TC, you've made the same mistake so many do, when discussing "family values", and those who profess them politically. you assumed, wrongly, that they were referring to those mythological "leave it to beaver", 1950's family values. they aren't, the "family" they have in mind is the sopranos.

    this merely points up the fallacy of our penal system: it isn't designed to rehabilitate, merely warehouse. call it "compassionate incarceration", an oxymoron on par with "compassionate conservatism".

    Family Values (none / 0) (#2)
    by Angie Hartford on Tue Jul 31, 2007 at 10:12:01 PM EST
    Forcibly separating people from their families is NOT a family value.

    Does anybody else see a parallel between shipping prisoners out-of-state, and slaveowners selling a misbehaving family member Down South?

    Piority (none / 0) (#3)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Tue Jul 31, 2007 at 10:58:27 PM EST

    Well your concerns would seem to be addressed if the priority for those sent out of state were for lifers and those without family.

    Incarceration is cheap at $2.67 per hour. (none / 0) (#4)
    by JSN on Wed Aug 01, 2007 at 07:14:39 AM EST
    That cost for a private prison does not include medical costs, education, job training, transportation and intake and release processing which are paid by the customer.

    The best solution is to reserve incarceration for those who are a threat to themselves or others and for habitual criminals.

    I hate new laws.... (none / 0) (#5)
    by kdog on Wed Aug 01, 2007 at 08:16:05 AM EST
    but we might need one here...you serve your time in the state the crime was committed, no ifs ands or buts.  If there is no room, the state has to make room by releasing non-violent offenders.