By Paul Ashton
It’s 2014 and it is time to: “Stop them. Shrink them. Close them.”
I heard the above quote by Donald Cohen, Executive Director of In the Public Interest, at the annual Public Safety and Justice Campaign’s (PSJC) prison privatization meeting held last December in Washington, D.C. The Public Safety and Justice Campaign is a growing coalition of labor, faith, criminal justice, human rights, and immigration organizations working to address privatization of the criminal justice system. This annual meeting is a time for members to gather to discuss the current state of privatization in the justice system and upcoming industry trends.
When I am out in public and talk about the criminal justice system and the need for reform, I often bring up private prisons and to my surprise I am usually greeted with shock from people who have no idea such an industry even exists. Well, private prisons are real and privatization of the justice system expands far beyond just the management of prisons; it can include the privatization of prison services such as healthcare, mental health services, food services and even phone contracts.
PSJC focuses on the privatization of the justice system and works to combat the insidious impact private interest can have on justice. In 2011, I co-authored the JPI report Gaming the System which examines the political strategies that private prison companies use to influence incarceration policy.