By Mary Turck
Last month the state of Washington contracted with the GEO Group, one of the largest for-profit prison companies in the U.S., to move up to 1,000 inmates from the state’s overcrowded prisons to its correctional facility in Michigan, thousands of miles from their homes and families. This makes family visits and connection with the community harder, though studies show that inmates who receive more visits are less likely to re-offend after release.
Prisoners can’t vote in the United States and as a result they don’t have much sway over public policy decisions. But private, for-profit prison companies do, their voices amplified by big campaign contributions and millions spent on lobbying. Ahead of the 2016 presidential election, some of the candidates’ ties to the prison-industrial complex raise a lot of questions. For example, the GEO Group has contributed heavily to campaigns of Florida senator and Republican contender Marco Rubio. And Republican candidate Jeb Bush’s support of for-profit prisons goes back to the 1990s, when he oversaw prison privatization as Florida governor.
Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton is calling for criminal justice reform, which would reduce profits for private prisons and reduce mass incarceration. The election offers voters a choice between candidates who support the current system that allows corporations to profit from the misery of the inmates and those committed to fundamental reform, which includes changing inflexible sentencing laws and ending the for-profit prison system.
Washington’s contract with the GEO Group is part of the boom in for-profit prisons, whose inmate population increased by 1,600 percent from 1980 to 2009. The privatization of prisons and prison services accelerated during former President Bill Clinton’s administration based on promises of cost savings and better treatment for inmates. For-profit prisons have delivered on neither.