Piper Kerman, aka the “real” Piper from Orange is the New Black, has long been an advocate for prison reform. Now she’s written a brilliant essay on why we need to end the privatization of prisons. Read an excerpt below:
Many Americans are surprised to learn that some prisons are operated by private companies with business models entirely dependent on the U.S. policy known as mass incarceration. The two largest private prison companies, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, collected $361 million in profits last year. Some private prison contracts require a 90% occupancy guarantee from government—if the beds aren’t full, the public pays penalties to the corporations. This profit motive creates obvious and profoundly perverse incentives that run counter to public safety and justice, while making it even harder for people to successfully return to their families and communities after being released. An increasing amount of research shows prisons held by private companies contribute to recidivism.
At the end of last season, fans of the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black,” created by Jenji Kohan, saw Litchfield prison taken over by a private prison corporation. In the new season, which starts today, we’ll watch the show’s fictional women prisoners continuing to find ways to survive together, but there’s a new pressure: the consequences of turning incarceration into a profit-making venture. After a flood of new transfers fills Litchfield to overflowing, the prison becomes painfully understaffed and under-resourced. This is true to reality—to maximize profit for their investors and reduce operational costs, private prisons often cut corners on staffing and other essentials of safety. The resulting safety and human rights violations in some privately operated prisons have been horrific.