The Problem with For-Profit Prisons

The Update

We were thrilled when the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced they will stop signing contracts with for-profit prisons, and plan to eventually phase private prisons out entirely. Here at A Social Ignition we’ve long understood that for-profit prisons don’t have the best interests of men who are incarcerated in mind. As Harvard University’s Clint Smith explains in The New Yorker, recidivism [roughly defined as someone reoffending within 3 years of their release] is necessary for the ongoing success of the prison industry: “The higher the recidivism rates, the more beds that are filled, and the more beds that are filled, the better for a for-profit prison.”  

For private prisons it’s simple: to keep profits high and maximize shareholder value, they need men to remain incarcerated. And the profits are high… private prisons take in $3.3 billion annually by keeping as many people imprisoned as possible, and rely on lobbyists in order to secure contracts.  These political moves have lead to the United States locking people up at a higher rate than any other country — not a competition that we should be proud of winning. Don’t forget, these people are our fathers, brothers, sons, cousins, uncles, mothers and sisters. 


A Social Ignition’s Response

The work we do at A Social Ignition inherently undermines the goals of the for-profit prison industry, and we’re proud of that fact. Our programming, which teaches entrepreneurial skills to currently and formerly incarcerated men, was designed to help men become gainfully employed, build strong relationships with local business mentors, and contribute actively to the growth and success of their own businesses and our civic communities. The ability to find meaningful employment and maintain positive relationships is precisely what keeps men out of prison.

What Comes Next

The DOJ’s decision marks a bold move in the right direction, but does not indicate an immediate end of for-profit prisons. In fact, the DOJ’s decision only addresses  13 federally contracted for-profit prisons: many states will continue to utilize private prison contractors. We are lucky that Oregon has never utilized for-profit prisons. In fact, our senator Ron Wyden has been at the forefront in the fight against private prisons.

This summer, Portland newspaper The Skanner reported Wyden’s position on for-profit prisons utilizing tax-breaks meant for real-estate development. Wyden gets right to the heart of the matter, saying: “As part of rethinking our criminal justice system […] the tax rules must be changed so we are not encouraging companies to unjustly profit from prison detention services.” To continue moving forward, we must commit to ending contracts with all for-profit prisons, and invest our funds in programs like The Ignition Option and The Long Haul which provide opportunities for men who are currently and formerly incarcerated to permanently become contributing members of society.

How You Can Help

Many private prisons are publicly traded and could be in your diversified investment portfolio. If you haven’t chosen the companies in your mutual funds, you may not know exactly what’s in there. Take a closer look at where you’re investing your money. The three largest companies in the for-profit prison industry are Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), Management & Training Corporation (MTC) and The GEO Group (GEO). Check your portfolio and opt-out of supporting these companies, or ask your financial manager to remove them from your portfolio. Publicly-traded companies are required by law to maximize profits for shareholders. As a shareholder, do you want to be responsible for keeping fathers, sons, and brothers incarcerated?

As always, we welcome you to join us in our mission to ensure that incarceration is rehabilitative, not punitive, and that we are investing in our citizens, not for-profit prison corporations and lobbyists. A Social Ignition relies on mentors from the business community to share their experiences with our clients as they develop their entrepreneurial plans. By offering your financial support or your time you can help A Social Ignition provide the type of programming that is vital to improving our prison system.

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