The Privatization of American Prisons Essay

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The Privatization of American Prisons


Since 1984, the California Penal System has been forced to undergo drastic changes resulting from increased legislation aimed at increasing the severity of retribution to offenders leading to an exponentially increasing prison population. In the 132 years between 1852 and 1984, the state of California built twelve prisons, but has since supplemented the prison system with 21 new facilities. In 1977, the California Department of Corrections was responsible for 19,600 inmates. California’s inmate population now stands at 160,655, an increase of close to 800%.

Across the nation, both local and federal prison systems have looked to private corporations to provide beds for
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Shortly after British colonists created the first Virginian settlements in 1607, a shipment of convicted felons arrived, shipped by British entrepreneurs to be used as indentured labor, a condition of their pardon. A process often used by private entrepreneurs, this, in turn, lowered prison costs to the respective government.

Throughout most of the eighteenth century, jails were maintained through a combination of fees and labor sales, and the state of Pennsylvania passed legislation calling for inmate labor to be used on all public projects.

Prisoner outsourcing in the United States is originally attributed to New York’s Newgate Prison in 1802. The prison was able to contract with local manufactures, effectively offsetting rising prison costs. By 1825, prisons throughout the country, including Auburn, Baltimore, Charlestown, and Wethersfield, were realizing profits resulting from “prison contracted labor industries.”

State legislators were quick to pass legislation aimed at compensating the rising costs attributed to keeping prisoners. In 1838, the state of New Jersey mandated all prisoners be kept working, and all earnings be used to cover the price of incarceration. California followed soon after with the Prison Act of 1851, which allowed prisoners to be turned over to contractors who would cloth, feed, and detain them in return for labor.

By the 1850s, California’s San Quentin Prison, was the first prison to be built and maintained
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