Jan 14 2012

“Too Good To Be True:” A New Report about Private Prisons

Yesterday, the Sentencing Project released a new report about private prisons titled “Too Good To Be True.”

The report details the history of private prisons in America, documents the increase in their use, and examines their supposed benefits. Among the report’s major findings:

1. From 1999 to 2010 the use of private prisons increased by 40 percent at the state level and by 784 percent in the federal prison system.

2. In 2010 seven states housed more than a quarter of their prison population in private facilities.

3. Claims of private prisons’ cost effectiveness are overstated and largely illusory.

4. The services provided by private prisons are generally inferior to those found in publicly operated facilities.

5. Private prison companies spend millions of dollars each year attempting to influence policy at the state and federal level.

The following table shows the dramatic increase in prisoners held in private prisons in the U.S. over the last decade:

Prisoners Held in Private Prisons in the United States



Change 1999-2010

Total Prison Population




Total Private




Federal Private




State Private






Aug 11 2010

Crazy Prison Industrial Complex Fact of the Day: Historical Edition 8/11/10

Data geeks rejoice! I have been working on a popular education project about the prison industrial complex for months now.   As such, I am currently looking at a lot of historical data about incarceration and taking tons of notes.  I thought that some of you might be interested in a couple of charts outlining historical racial differences in incarceration since I have shared so much contemporary data over the past few weeks.  If folks are interested, over the coming days, I can share some detailed charts about incarceration in 1929 (start of the Great Depression), 1945 (the end of World War II) and 1964 (the heart of the black freedom struggle). Leave a comment.

Please note that these charts are based on documented information from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.  The Bureau has created a set of “estimated” numbers as well because some of the state documentation was unavailable or inaccessible.  So the first chart relies on the BJS’s estimates based on the best available documentation that state governments collected at the time.  The second more detailed chart is based solely on documentation that was provided by jurisdictions at the time.  As such, those tallies actually undercount the numbers of prisoners.  Nevertheless they are interesting to look at and to compare to our most recent numbers.  By any measure, you can see how the United States has become over time a prison nation.

Table 5. Estimated imprisonment rate, by race: 1926 versus 1986

1926 1986
Estimated admissions to State and Federal Prisons Estimated resident population Estimated admissions per 100,000 population Estimated admissions to State and Federal prisons Estimated resident population Estimated admissions per 100,000 population
Total 50,312 116,330,000 43 223,883 240,551,200 93
White 37,734 104,201,000 36 122,483 194,748,200 63
Black 12,075 11,381,800 106 98,519 28,844,600 342
Other 503 810,400 62 2,881 16,958.400 17
Source: Race of Prisoners Admitted to State and Federal Institutions, 1926-86

You might find it interesting as you look at the chart below to notice how blacks outnumber whites as prisoners in the southern states of Maryland, Louisiana, Mississippi and Virginia.

For fun, click here to see current data about state prison populations.   For example, in 2009, Illinois had 45,161 prisoners.  In 1926, Illinois had 1,728 prisoners.  Seems quaint doesn’t it?  Hey, some people get excited about winning a trip to Bermuda, I get psyched about data.  To each her own…

Table 7. Sentenced prisoners admitted to State and Federal Institutions, by race, 1926
Jurisdiction Total White Black Other races Race not reported
U.S. total 43,328 33,559 9,274 409 86
Federal 5,010 4,042 641 323 4
State 38,318 28,701 8,633 902 82
Connecticut 401 293 34 0 74
Maine 210 210 0
Massachusetts 826 791 30 5
New Hampshire 33 33
New Jersey 1,170 893 273 3 1
New York 3,290 2,838 433 17 2
Pennsylvania 1,531 1,219 308 4
Rhode Island 197 141 55 1
Vermont 285 281 4
North Central
Illinois 1,728 1,371 352 5
Indiana 1,385 1,144 231 10
Iowa 665 627 38
Kansas 1,253 1,050 186 17
Michigan 3,040 2,355 620 61 4
Minnesota 822 799 14 9
Missouri 1,609 1,213 396
Nebraska 495 454 30 11
North Dakota 210 197 11 2
Ohio 3,180 2,302 871 7
South Dakota 297 262 1 34
Wisconsin 817 778 21 18
Arkansas 998 576 522
Kentucky 1,365 908 467
Louisiana 765 291 471 3
Maryland 1,882 759 1,120 3
Mississippi 649 199 448 2
North Carolina 580 319 256 4 1
Oklahoma 1,680 1,206 390 84
South Carolina 302 161 140 1
Tennessee 253 185 67 1
Virginia 844 361 482 1
West Virginia 854 634 220
Arizona 257 139 21 97
California 1,849 1,466 129 254
Colorado 806 637 41 128
Montana 277 233 16 28
Nevada 123 93 4 26
Oregon 332 314 1 17
Utah 155 133 3 19
Washington 827 775 34 18
Wyoming 76 61 3 12
Source: Race of Prisoners Admitted to State and Federal institutions, 1926-1986

Note: The white U.S. total includes Mexicans, but the Federal and State totals for whites exclude Mexicans.  The “other races” U.S. total excludes Mexicans, but the Federal and State totals for “other races” include Mexicans.

Jul 22 2010

Undocumented Immigrants Filling Arizona Prisons…What A Surprise?!!?

Melanie Cervantes for Alto Arizona

I just blogged earlier today about the natural alliance between anti-prison activists and immigration activists. A friend just sent me a story by CBS News that highlights the unfortunate intersection between immigration and the prison industrial complex.

Quoting from the CBS News story:

New data from the Arizona Department of Corrections shows that undocumented immigrants are increasingly over-represented in the state’s prison population.

In June 2010, undocumented immigrants represented 14.8 percent of Arizona state prisoners, but accounted for only 7 percent of the state’s overall population according to the Department of Homeland Security.

The new data also revealed for the first time a breakdown of crimes for which undocumented immigrants were incarcerated.

The premise of the CBS story is to figure out whether undocumented immigrants “cause” more crime which is of course DEBUNKED from the FBI data cited in their own story.  What is NOT addressed in their piece is the fact that Arizona is actually CRIMINALIZING immigration status thus “filling up prisons” in that way.

I believe that we have to show more solidarity with the activists who are fighting against the unjust S.B. 1070.  We must do this immediately.  One way to start is to join next week’s National Week against Criminalization Campaign. Colorlines offers many other ways to support activists fighting against S.B. 1070.

Jul 20 2010

I swore I wasn’t going to do this…but Lindsay Lohan should NOT be in jail

AP photo

After a number of e-mail messages from friends and family, I am forced to comment on today’s news that actress Lindsay Lohan began her 90 day jail sentence.  Because my family and friends are well aware of my work to dismantle the prison industrial complex (PIC), they are of course interested in my take on this matter.

I angrily told my sister earlier today that I didn’t want to be bothered with this issue and that I was most certainly NOT going to blog about it today.  I have obviously relented.  My reason is simple: it is a chance for me to once again reiterate that NOTHING GOOD COMES FROM PUTTING PEOPLE IN JAIL OR PRISON.  NOTHING!

Just today, I offered a crazy PIC fact of the day that focused on the astronomical numbers of people who are substance abusing or using and caught up in the system.  This is no joking matter and it is not something to make light of just because the person who happens to be afflicted with the substance abuse problem is a rich white girl.

There is something perverse about the purient nature of the spectacle surrounding this Lohan situation.  There is something extraordinarily troubling about the number of people who seem to feel that the “spoiled little rich girl” got what was coming to her.  There is something in human nature that likes to see people suffer particularly when we ourselves feel the boot of oppression heavily on our necks.  I can understand that impulse and yet I would like to see people reclaim their sense of humanity and decency.

I for one don’t want to be included among the mainstream voices who feel that jail will teach Lohan some sort of “lesson.”  What lesson is that exactly?  that we continue to wage a pointless, costly, and destructive war on drugs…

Lindsay Lohan should NOT be in jail today and neither should the thousands of other currently incarcerated people who are substance using or abusing.  This is not the right way to handle such issues.  We need a public health approach to addressing substance use and abuse rather than a criminalizing and punitive one.  I am sure that the t-shirts are already being printed but add my name to the list of people who say: FREE LINDSAY LOHAN.

Note: Here is another example of the low-rent coverage of Lindsay going to jail.

Jul 12 2010

Crazy Prison Industrial Complex Fact of the Day

Incarceration vs Crime Rates

This graph clearly illustrates the DISCONNECT between crime rates and incarceration rates. Incarceration has had a small effect on the violent crime and property crime rates over time. However when you put this up against the collateral and direct damage caused by the expansion of prisons, one has to ask: “Is this small drop in crime worth the high economic, social, and moral costs of incarceration?” The answer to this must be an unequivocal “NO!” We have expanded the numbers of people under “correctional’ supervision over the past 30 years with no concomittant precipitous drop in rates of crime.

It’s time for a different solution. And fast.

Jul 09 2010

Anti-Prison People’s Movement Assembly Resolution

I missed the US Social Forum in Detroit because I was out of the country while it was happening. However, I was very interested in how the issue of the PIC would be addressed in workshops and particularly at the People’s Movement Assembly.

Well by the miracle of technology, I was able to read the resolution that was developed in Detroit. And now so can you…