In 2009, a major corruption scandal named “Kids for Cash” hit the juvenile justice system of Luzerne County in Pennsylvania. Two local judges had been enforcing a zero tolerance policy for bad behavior in schools and placed thousands of children into private juvenile detention facilities for committing small crimes such as fighting in school or creating a fake MySpace account. Most of these children had no representation in court and were immediately taken away from friends and family.
The unprincipled judges, Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, were found guilty of receiving $2.6 million in kickbacks from those private detention facilities as they made sure to keep the juvenile detention centers full. Their unlawful actions were at the expense of thousands of children’s lives all for one thing: money. These kids were stripped of their childhood as most of them were locked up for many years. The scandal was created into a movie called “Kids for Cash” that was released in February 2014 where the victims and their families were interviewed.
Prison privatization is when the state or federal government contracts with a non- government third party to oversee and manage a prison or jail. The government pays the private facilities a set amount per month for each prisoner, regardless of how much it actually costs to care for the prisoner. This system provides an incentive for third parties to lock up as many people as possible for as long as possible so the third party will gain more money as evident in the documentary.
According to The Columbus Dispatch, the U.S. Justice Department will not continue to use private prisons for federal inmates after finding that 14 privately operated facilities around the country had more safety and contraband issues than government-run operations. These private facilities do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs and resources; they do not save substantially on costs and they do not maintain the same level of safety and security, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates wrote in a memo.
However, the state of Ohio does not intend to follow the federal government
in abandoning private prison operations. The two private prisons in Ohio saved the state five percent annually compared to the cost of public operation facilities. However, this does not take into account personnel and maintenance expenses, which, when calculated, would end up saving the state very little compared to public facilities.
Scandals like “Kids for Cash” have gotten people to question the private prison industry and what the real intentions are. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has a long- standing campaign against private prisons, saying they pay employees low wages and provide less safe conditions for inmates and staff. As a staff, we believe that for-profit prison corporations’ main goal is to generate the greatest profits possible. Providing safe and humane conditions of confinement to the inmates is a distant secondary goal. The private prison industry has been a key player in mass incarceration the United States, which has affected thousands of families, communities and state and local governments. Private prisons are the problem, not the solution.