Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Corporatization of Criminal Justice

On April 14, 2017 at the Arizona State University Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, a symposium will be held entitled "The Corporatization of Criminal Justice."  The conference will bring together panelists and keynote presenters from across the nation and world consisting of scholars, attorneys and advocates working on the pressing issue of the role of private for-profit prisons in mass incarceration and immigration detention.  The conference seeks to address a broad range of questions, including how the profit-motive of private prison corporations influences the length and severity of sentences and availability of parole, how private prisons and mass incarceration disproportionately impact communities of color and how private prisons contribute to social inequality and oppression.  This event will examine the corporatization of the criminal justice system writ large, examining prisons, parole, immigration detention, bail and probation.

The event keynote speaker is Benjamin Jealous, former President and CEO of the NAACP.  Other speakers include Marie Gottschalk, Gilad Barnea, Rashad Shabazz, Paul Bender, Yolanda Vasquez, Donald Tibbs, Hadar Aviram, Alex Friedmann, Yvette Lindgren, John Dacey, and dré cummings.  Presenter biographies are available here.

The event is available to attorneys for CLE credit (Arizona and California) (register here) and is free for the general public.  The conference schedule is

Together with ASU Law, this event is being sponsored by:  Abolish Private Prisons, Carolina Academic Press, American Constitution Society, Changing Hands Bookstore, and the law firm of Osborn Maledon.


  1. I have commented previously on the issue on the privatization of prisons. This comment is in regard to one of the issues that Benjamin Jealous has reportedly directed his activism, that is - easing the voting restrictions of ex-felons.

    My first thought is how is (allegedly) committing a crime congruent to not retaining the right to vote? My answer is that I do not think the two are related in any way. (Sidenote: As everyone knows not all convictions equal a guilty person.)

    What I do think is that easing the voting restrictions of ex-felons would provide (alleged) "ex-felons" another opportunity and perspective to reenter a society in which many (alleged) felons already feel cast aside from.

    Additionally, if ex-felons have been disproportionately affected based on their race, as has been reported for many years, there would seem to yet another reason to do the equitable thing - ease the voting restrictions for ex-felons.

    Robin Beasley

    1. robin, excellent comment. felon disenfranchisement has served as a trigger point for the current trend in restricting voting rights currently engaged in by many states across the country. voter-id laws and limiting the number of days and hours of pre-voting are both efforts to restrict the number of Americans that vote, when we should be expanding the franchise, allowing the greatest number of individuals to exercise their right. i agree that any state law that restricts released prisoners (those that have paid their debt to society) from voting should be repealed such that all those interested in exercising their right should be allowed to do so.

      at the ASU event, ben jealous talked about criminal justice reform and the great victories that can be won by dedicated activists. he described the successful efforts of some to remove voting restrictions of formerly incarcerated persons across the country.

  2. The private prison system is one issue that I’ve not entirely made my mind up on. Either way, it looks like the current DOJ is no longer planning on phasing them out any time soon

    It does feel somewhat unnatural and potentially troublesome to allow a private entity to become too intertwined in the government sanctioned deprivation of an American citizen’s rights (not getting into "crimmigation"). That being said, other instances in which the government has given up their monopoly on a service have served to increase efficiency, decrease costs and produce a better product in the long run. Space-X and the gradual privatization of space is a current example.

    The real question, for me any way, is whether the duty a private corporation has to its shareholders and its desire for profits can still be a driving force to reach the same (or better) result that a public prison would achieve, regardless of the corporation's motive for doing so. I tend to be a strong believer in the free market and I have my doubts that the end product of private prison corporations is necessarily any worse than a government operated prison. -Christian

  3. Privatization of government functions under the guise of fiduciary duty to the taxpayer has been the game of our elected officials with connections to corporate coffers (e.g. Halliburton) for some time. A role of government is to safeguard it's people to include it's inmates and detainees. It is a tragic situation where the duration of punishing or detaining equals profitability.
    Brian Pyle

  4. We have a network of private banks that control our country's currency, the Federal Reserve. This is acceptable, even preferable, to putting the task in government hands because, if the government could control it, the party in power would just turn on the faucet every election year and win their seats back with the feel-good economy they created. We have used private contractors to fight armed conflicts in the Baltics and the Middle East, Dyncorp and Blackwater, to name a few. We can rationalize that we are not putting our citizens' lives at stake, or that there's a plausible deniability aspect to their placement. The free-market, libertarian aspect of America really likes putting tasks one almost intuitively thinks are the government's job in private hands.

    But how do we rationalize the privatization of prisons? Do they offer a superior incarceration experience? Meaning, is there a greater likelihood of reform if a convict is placed in a CCA facility as opposed to a state-run facility? I've heard classmates say there's a greater likelihood of deterrence, for if living conditions in prison were better, then homeless people would break the law to get thrown in jail. I don't really buy that, though. Other than saying "it's terrible" and wishing it would stop, knowing that it's not going anywhere for conceivably the next 4 years, how do we make it work? Do we need heightened regulation, some regulatory agency within the DOJ to inspect these facilities to ensure they meet the same standards that state-run prisons? Honestly, I'd like to see some statistics which show lower recidivism rates or some benefit to private prisons, other than lower costs.

    Speaking of cost, I found an article debating whether private prisons are even cheaper than the state doing it themselves, coincidentally from Arizona:


  5. The idea of a prison being ran for profit is highly unsettling. As any business, a prison that aims to earn a profit will benefit by incarcerating more people for longer periods of time. This thinking takes the focus off of rehabilitation which should arguably be the main focus for prisons. Since prisons will be motivated to incarcerate more people, police officers will also be motivated to arrested more people. Therefore, the officers will likely focus on low-income neighborhoods where they can arrest many people at once, often for drug related offenses.