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Race in Private Prisons: Young Latinos and Blacks are "Cherry-Picked" By Inferior Private Prisons

First Posted: Feb 22, 2014 10:00 AM EST
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Most overrepresented in US prisons are people of color: African Americans and Latinos constitute 30 percent of the US population, yet they comprise 60 percent of its prisoners. That said, not only are African Americans and Latinos more likely to be arrested and jailed, but a new study by University of California-Berkeley researcher Christopher Petrella disclosed that people of color are likely than whites to serve time in private prisons -- which has higher levels of recidivism and violence. These institutions also provide inadequate educational programming and healthcare when compared to public facilities.

The research involved compared the percentage of Latinos and Blacks in private and public prisons in nine states. Each state, at different percentages, had higher rates of people of color residing in private facilities than public facilities.

Inmates released from private prisons experienced recidivism -- the tendency to relapse into criminal behavior, at an average rate three percent higher than public prisons. Many factors contribute to this, including the fact that younger inmates in private prisons are sought after for reason of exploitation and low maintenance costs, and not rehabilitation.

The higher rate of recidivism ranged from an excess of three percent in Arizona and Georgia to 13 percent in Oklahoma and California. The researcher indicated that the disparity casts doubt on claims of cost-efficiency made by the private prison industry, also it demonstrates how "ostensibly 'colorblind' policies can have a very real effect on people of color."

The study showed links between inmate's age and race; private prisons contract a higher rate of inmates of color, and a majority of inmates are under the age of 50. Older inmates tend to be medically expensive, and exemption from housing individuals of a certain age means that costs are kept low and profits are kept high. The war on drugs draws a great deal of young people of color toward private prisons; while older whites, who are more like to arrested, are placed in public prisons . By denying older inmates, private prisons are also denying white inmates because are only 33.2 percent of white prisoners under the age of 50, a vast majority is 50+.

High-level quotas must be maintained even as crime rates drop, and the growth of the prison industry's prioritization of profit over rehabilitation are dynamics that show that there criminal-like activity conducted by those behind the locks and the key holders. Non-white communities have been disproportionally affected for the last 40 years, and now they are cherry-picked and delivered to inferior private prisons.

Being younger, having superior health and being brown seems to be quintessential traits when selecting inmates for private prisons. These facilities, after all, aim to scout inmates with "a prisoner profile that is far younger and far 'darker' ... than in select counterpart public facilities."

"Given the data, it's difficult for private prisons to make the claim that they can incarcerate individuals more efficiently than their public counterparts," Petrella tells Mother Jones. "We need to be comparing apples to apples. If we're looking at different prisoner profiles, there is no basis to make the claim that private prisons are more efficient than publics."

ACLU National Prison Project's David Shapiro agreed with Petrella's findings, stating, "The study is an example of the many ways in which for-profit prisons create an illusion of fiscal responsibility even though the actual evidence of cost savings, when apples are compared to apples, is doubtful at best. Privatization gimmicks are a distraction from the serious business of addressing our addiction to mass incarceration."

However, the addiction is not only mass incarceration, but the incarceration and longterm containment of a particular demographic. Blacks and Latinos are snared by private prisons. They are exploited, and they are "leased" to private companies. The private prison industry reaps massive rewards from the government and from private prison executives who feign superiority over the public sector. But, both "deprive individuals of freedom, wrests loved ones from their families, and drains the resources of governments, communities, and taxpayers, the private prison industry reaps lucrative rewards." Private prisons also normalizes segregation and relapse.

Demanding a high enrollment in academic, vocational and substance abuse programming, and recruiting in an equal amount of white inmates would create a balance in private prisons.  

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