(MintPress) – When it comes to private prisons in America, business is booming.
The industry’s boom came from 1999 to 2010, when the private prison population increased by 80 percent, compared to a public prison rise of just 18 percent, according to a report conducted by the Sentencing Project, a prison reform advocacy organization.
In the federal prison system alone, the private industry’s inmate count increased 784 percent in that same 10-year span, from 3,828 in 1999 to 33,830. That leaves the combined state and federal private prisoner count at 128,195. Florida is host to the most private inmates, with 11,796 in 2010.
The powerhouse emerging from the private prison business is Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which runs more than 65 private prisons with 75,000-plus inmates throughout the nation, making it the largest of its kind. The company’s fourth quarter earning report for 2011 indicates it ended the year with a revenue of $1.7 billion.
In 1984, CCA began to make its mark in the industry, openings its first prison in Tennessee, serving as the first example of the public hiring a private industry to manage prison operations. In 1985, CCA sought to expand that footprint, attempting to serve as a contract management company for all of the state’s prisons. The Tennessee Legislature wouldn’t allow it, with opposition citing a “growing reputation for cost overruns and inmate escapes,” according to the Sentencing Project.
The second largest prison company, GEO Group, Inc., lost contracts for private prisons in California in 2011 after the state pushed forward with the Justice Realignment Plan, intended to reduce the prison population. The move highlighted the tension between public and private prisons — while first introduced to operate prisons more efficiently and save state and federal government funds, private businesses profit when their cells are full. The business model proved antithetical, at least in the case of California, to achieve that societal goal.
CCA’s Lee Adjustment Center in Kentucky, for example, does not offer mental or educational rehabilitation, according to a piece published in CounterPunch News Magazine.
The reputation of private prison industry has also been in the spotlight, with recent scandals in Kentucky that called into question the accountability of the CCA operation.
One Kentucky CCA prison was shut down in 2012 after it was learned the prison was in the middle of a sex scandal, in which inmates accused staff of forcing the trade of sexual behavior for certain privileges, according to a FOX news report. The state paid CCA $21 million in 2010 to operate the Otter Creek Prison and Lee Adjustment Center.
Kentucky did not continue its partnership with CCA, citing that it wanted to “refocus efforts on rehabilitation,” according to a FOX report.
Lee Adjustment Center did not close, however, and still operates in the state. It considers its “customer base” the Vermont Department of Corrections.