For-Profit Prison Employees Participate In High School Drug Search

Author: November 28, 2012 1:09 pm

In what is now a building controversy, CCA (Corrections Corporation for America) officers helped search an Arizona school during a “drug sweep” that included a “lockdown.” While drug sweeps and no-tolerance policies are becoming more and more commonplace in America, the use of a for-profit prison corporation’s corrections officers was both illegal and wrong.

CCA operates 60 facilities across the nation with a capacity of 90,000, although they only incarcerate an estimated 80,000 inmates as of now. Their website states:

As a full-service corrections management provider, CCA specializes in the design, construction, expansion and management of prisons, jails and detention facilities, as well as inmate transportation services through its subsidiary company TransCor America. The company is the fifth-largest corrections system in the nation, behind only the federal government and three states.

CCA houses more than 80,000 inmates in more than 60 facilities, 44 of which are company-owned, with a total bed capacity of more than 90,000. CCA currently partners with all three federal corrections agencies (The Federal Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement), 16 states, more than a dozen local municipalities, and Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

If you think for-profit prisons are a good idea in the first place, you’ve lost the sense of objectivity and morality. As a colleague at Addicting Info reported,

When a prison is motivated by profit, a stay in prison becomes a commodity. A private prison company’s first allegiance is to their shareholders, not to the citizens of the state and certainly not to its inmates. They often take draconian measures to cut costs.

According to a recent study by the ACLU,

Private prison companies cut costs by hiring cheaper, lower-skilled staff and fewer of them. The result is a vicious cycle where poorly trained and poorly disciplined corrections officers are incapable of adequately responding to prison emergencies. Prison safety conditions deteriorate, and more staff quit, increasing the turnover rate.

A 2004 report found that private prisons had 50 percent more inmate on inmate assaults and almost 50 percent more inmate on staff assaults.

Private prisons are similar to the hotel industry in one simple way; they make money when they fill beds. They lose money when beds are empty. According to the Bureau of Justice statistics, the prison population has actually declined in recent years.

She goes on to report that the declining prison population has caused for-profit prisons and lobbyists to become more proactive, spending money lobbying Congress and others to create laws that create more prisoners, more people in jail and because they also own multiple detention facilities that deal with immigrants, harsher laws regarding immigration.


Private prisons are thought to — and meant to — cut costs for the government. Keeping people in prison or jail is an expensive thing to do, with costs running from $50 to $150 per day on average, depending on the agency and state involved. However, the New York Times has debunked that particular thought before:

 The conviction that private prisons save money helped drive more than 30 states to turn to them for housing inmates. But Arizona shows that popular wisdom might be wrong: Data there suggest that privately operated prisons can cost more to operate than state-run prisons — even though they often steer clear of the sickest, costliest inmates.

They go on to single out Arizona, reporting that,

Such has been the case lately in Arizona. Despite a state law stipulating that private prisons must create “cost savings,” the state’s own data indicate that inmates in private prisons can cost as much as $1,600 more per year, while many cost about the same as they do in state-run prisons.

The research, by the Arizona Department of Corrections, also reveals a murky aspect of private prisons that helps them appear less expensive: They often house only relatively healthy inmates.

“It’s cherry-picking,” said State Representative Chad Campbell, leader of the House Democrats. “They leave the most expensive prisoners with taxpayers and take the easy prisoners.”

When it comes to running jails, many people held in jails aren’t even convicted of crimes yet. Addicting Info reports,

A recent study by the Pretrial Justice Institute has found that 61% of people sitting in jail are still awaiting trial. Only 39% are serving actual sentences. As recently as 1996, that number was about evenly divided.

As the number of incarcerated individuals for crimes has started to level off, lobbyists an private prisons have tried a new tack, targeting immigrants. It goes on to say that,

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, even higher than Russia, China and Iran, countries that Americans often hold up as being human rights abusers. It should stand to reason that by locking up more criminals, we’d have the lowest crime rate. We don’t. In fact, we have the 8th highest crime rate in the world.

In comes the private prison industry. Since 1990, the number of prisoners housed in private prisons has risen a whopping 1600%. While government run prisons have no incentive to fill cells, like a Kafkaesque Holiday Inn, private prison owners are paid for filling beds.

If you think for a moment that laws like Arizona’s ‘Papers Please’ are about curbing immigration, you’d be wrong. Immigrants, undocumented and sometimes documented, are a cash cow for the private prison system.

The Boston Phoenix reported that, “the country’s largest private prison provider, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), spent more than $2.7 million from 2006 through September 2008 on lobbying for stricter laws.”

This is where the issue with having these corrections officers helping search a school for drugs comes into play. In fact, “Arizona Administrative Code provides that, in order for any individual to engage in the duties of a ‘peace officer,’ that individual must obtain certification from the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board.” (Alternet)

While the argument can be made, using another piece of the Arizona Administrative Code, that the role of the CCA in this drug search were purely supportive and they were under direct supervision by law enforcement officials, they still must have POST certification. They did not.

The drug search turned up three culprits with marijuana; two 15-year-old children with a tenth of a gram and a half of a gram respectively, and a 17-year-old with a whopping 10 ounces. The students were all released to their guardians and the school will be conducting expulsion hearings against all three. However, the participation of CCA brings a sharp example of conflict-of-interest.

The 17-year-old is old enough to be charged as an adult in Arizona, and the amount of marijuana that she had — the incredible 10 ounces — would carry a prison sentence if convicted on adult charges. Not only that, but there are those that have asserted that investigators in these instances have put pressure on kids to try and find the dealers, which, while sounding admirable, is really just a ploy to fill those beds of theirs:

Furthermore, according to Anderson, the Vista Grande High School marijuana arrests have sparked a broader, ongoing investigation.

Given the fact that such high school raids may serve as the foundation for larger narcotics investigations which may net additional adult offenders — and given the tremendous pressure for information a prosecutor may exert on a student through discretionary use of “drug-free school zone” sentencing enhancements — concerned citizens say that CCA’s involvement in such raids constitutes a clear conflict of interest.

“They’re [CCA] not the criminal justice system. They are benefactors of the criminal justice system,” said correctional specialist and prison reform advocate, Carl Toersbijns. (Alternet)

For-profit prisons are a plague on America for a very simple reason, something we have proved again and again: money is motivation for any and everything. In this case, we’re giving a cash incentive to incarcerate people. In fact, to incarcerate people for lesser and lesser crimes and for longer and longer sentences. Lobbyists use money to influence our laws, showing exactly how far this pervasive influence goes. And now local law enforcement sees no problem allowing them to help search a school for drugs, despite the fact that it was illegal to have them do so.

CCA, and companies like them, profit from human beings being locked up. We all know that the United States has an extremely high rate of incarceration. Is it ethical for us to allow corporations to profit from a societal sickness?

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