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“You just sell it like you were selling cars, or real estate, or hamburgers.

In the early 1980s, the Corrections Corporation of America pioneered the idea of running prisons for a profit. “You just sell it like you were selling cars, or real estate, or hamburgers,” one of its founders told Inc. magazine. Today, corporate-run prisons hold eight percent of America’s inmates. Here’s how the private prison industry took off:

1983

Thomas Beasley, Doctor R. Crants, and T. Don Hutto start Corrections Corporation of America, the world’s first private prison company.

1984
CCA begins operating a county jail and a juvenile detention center in Tennessee. It also opens its first privately owned facility in Houston, a motel hastily remodeled to hold immigration detainees.

1985
A federal judge orders Tennessee to stop admitting inmates to its overcrowded prisons. CCA offers, unsuccessfully, to pay $250 million for a 99-year lease on the state’s entire prison system.

1986
CCA goes public, saying its facility design and use of electronic surveillance mean it can operate larger prisons “with less staff than the public sector would have needed.”

Dog team at Winn Correctional Center

A guard dog at Winn Correctional Center in Winnfield, Louisiana
1987
Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, later known as the GEO Group, gets its first contract to run a federal immigration detention center.

1990s
Among the “model” bills ?to emerge from the American Legislative Exchange Council‘s criminal justice task force, which CCA later co-chairs, are truth-in-sentencing and three-strikes legislation that help fuel the ’90s prison boom. (CCA says it did not vote on or comment on any proposed ALEC legislation.)*

1997
Arguing that it’s in the property business, CCA becomes a real estate investment trust for tax purposes. A new affiliate, Prison Realty Trust, raises $447 million for a prison-buying spree.

Private And Public Prison Populations 1990-2014

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1998
The Justice Department investigates a CCA prison in Youngstown, Ohio, following a spate of escapes, stabbings, and killings. In addition to finding inexperienced and poorly trained guards, the probe reveals that CCA took on maximum-security inmates at a facility designed for a medium-security population.

2000
As prison occupancy rates drop, Prison Realty Trust nearly goes bankrupt. CCA stock, once nearly $150 a share, falls to 19 cents. The company drops the trust and restructures.

CCA Stock Price, 1997-2016

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2004
A Justice Department report finds a “disturbing degree” of physical abuse by staff and underreporting of violence among inmates at a Baltimore juvenile facility run by the private prison operator Correctional Services Corporation. CSC is later acquired by GEO.

2005
Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio) introduces the Private Prison Information Act, which would require private prisons holding federal inmates to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests. It died, as have at least seven similar bills opposed by CCA and GEO.

2007

A drawing by an immigrant child held at CCA's T. Don Hutto Center.

A drawing by an immigrant child held at CCA’s T. Don Hutto Center. ACLU

CCA’s and GEO’s stock prices jump as both companies jockey to run the federal government’s expanding immigration detention centers. Meanwhile, the ACLU settles a case against Immigration and Customs Enforcement for conditions in the CCA-managed T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Texas, where about half the detainees are kids. Under the agreement, children no longer wear prison uniforms and may move more freely.

2008
The New York Times investigates the deaths of immigration detainees, such as a Guinean man at a CCA-run facility who fractured his skull and was placed in solitary confinement before being taken to a hospital. He died after four months in a coma.

2009
A CCA representative attends a meeting where ALEC members draft the legislation that will eventually become Arizona’s notorious anti-immigration law. CCA denies having a hand in writing the bill. It cuts ties with ALEC the following year.

2010
An ACLU suit alleges rampant violence at a CCA-run Idaho prison known as “gladiator school.” The lawsuit claims the prison is understaffed and fosters an environment that “relies on the degradation, humiliation, and subjugation of prisoners.” The FBI investigates but doesn’t pursue charges. In Kentucky, the governor orders all female inmates removed from a CCA prison after more than a dozen cases of alleged sexual abuse by guards.

2011
 

Inmates at Winn Correctional Center

Inmates at Winn Correctional Center

CCA becomes the first private prison company to purchase a state facility, buying Ohio’s Lake Erie Correctional Institutionas part of a privatization plan proposed by Gov. John Kasich and supported by his corrections chief, former CCA Director Gary Mohr.

 

2012
CCA offers to buy prisons in 48 states in exchange for 20-year management contracts. The same year, a GEO-operated youth facility in Mississippi where staff sexually abused minors is described by a judge as a “cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions.” At another Mississippi facility, a 24-year-old CCA employee is killed during a riot over prisoners’ complaints about poor food, inadequate medical care, and disrespectful guards.

2013
CCA converts back to a real estate investment trust, as does GEO. Mother Jones reports that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has invested $2.2 million in GEO.

2014
As it did during at least the previous five years, CCA’s annual report flags criminal justice reform—including drug decriminalization and the reduction of mandatory minimum sentences—as a “risk factor” for its business.* Chris Epps, Mississippi’s prison commissioner and the president of the American Correctional Association, is charged with taking kickbacks from a private prison contractor.

2015
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) co-sponsors the Justice is Not for Sale Act, which would ban all government contracts with private prison companies. After Hillary Clinton is criticizedfor using campaign bundlers who’d worked as lobbyists for CCA and GEO, she promises to no longer take their money and says, “We should end private prisons and private detention centers.”

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* This item has been clarified.

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4,900 people from Maine are behind bars today – Prisonpolicy.org

Pie chart showing that 3,800 Maine residents are locked up in federal prisons, state prisons, local jails and other types of facilities

Rates of imprisonment have grown dramatically in the last 40 years

graph showing the number of people in state prison and local jails per 100,000 residents in Maine from 1978 to 2015Also see these Maine graphs:

Graph showing the number of people in Maine jails who were convicted and the number who were unconvicted, for the years 1978, 1983, 1988, 1993, 1999, 2005, and 2013.

Today, Maine’s incarceration rates stand out internationally

graphic comparing the incarceration rates of the founding NATO members with the incarceration rates of the United States and the state of Maine. The incarceration rate of 698 per 100,000 for the United States and 363 for Maine is much higher than any of the founding NATO membersIn the U.S., incarceration extends beyond prisons and local jails to include other systems of confinement. The U.S. and state incarceration rates in this graph include people held by these other parts of the justice system, so they may be slightly higher than the commonly reported incarceration rates that only include prisons and jails. Details on the data are available in States of Incarceration: The Global Context. We also have a version of this graph focusing on the incarceration of women.

People of color are overrepresented in prisons and jails

2010 graph showing incarceration rates per 100,000 people of various racial and ethnic groups in Maine

racial and ethnic disparities between the prison/jail and general population in ME as of 2010See also our detailed graphs about WhitesBlacks, and American Indians/Native Americans in Maine prisons and jails.

Maine’s criminal justice system is more than just its prisons and jails

Pie chart showing that 10,000 Maine residents are in various types of correctional facilities or under criminal justice supervision on probation or parole

Which Jailbreak went smoother?

 

 

Who fought the law better?  Bobby Fuller or the Clash?

 

 

 

There are 2.2 million people in the nation’s prisons and jails—a 500% increase over the last 40 years. Changes in law and policy, not changes in crime rates, explain most of this increase. The results are overcrowding in prisons and fiscal burdens on states, despite increasing evidence that large-scale incarceration is not an effective means of achieving public safety.


International Rates of Incarceration per 100,000
0200400600U.S.RwandaRussiaBrazilAustraliaSpainChinaCanadaFranceAustriaGermanyDenmarkSwedenIndia

Country Incarceration rate (per 100,000)
U.S. 670
Rwanda 434
Russia 413
Brazil 325
Australia 167
Spain 126
China 118
Canada 114
France 102
Austria 94
Germany 78
Denmark 59
Sweden 57
India 33
Data source: International Centre for Prison Studies. Download chart

U.S. State and Federal Prison Population, 1925-2016
192519301936194219481954196019661972197819841990199620022008201120140500,0001,000,0001,500,000

Year Population
1925 91,669
1926 97,991
1928 116,390
1930 129,453
1932 137,997
1934 138,316
1936 145,038
1938 160,285
1940 173,706
1942 150,384
1944 132,456
1946 140,079
1948 155,977
1950 166,123
1952 168,233
1954 182,901
1956 189,565
1958 205,643
1960 212,953
1962 218,830
1964 214,336
1966 199,654
1968 187,914
1970 196,429
1972 196,092
1974 218,466
1976 262,833
1978 294,396
1980 315,974
1982 395,516
1984 443,398
1986 522,084
1988 603,732
1990 739,980
1992 846,277
1994 1,016,691
1996 1,137,722
1998 1,245,402
2000 1,331,278
2002 1,380,516
2004 1,496,629
2006 1,570,861
2008 1,610,446
2009 1,613,740
2010 1,605,127
2011 1,598,780
2012 1,571,013
2013 1,516,879
2014 1,508,636
2015 1,476,847
2016 1,458,173
Data source: Bureau of Justice Statistics. Download chart

How did this happen?

We started sending more people to prison.

A series of law enforcement and sentencing policy changes of the “tough on crime” era resulted in dramatic growth in incarceration. Since the official beginning of the War on Drugs in 1982, the number of people incarcerated for drug offenses in the U.S. skyrocketed from 40,900 in 1980 to 450,345 in 2016. Today, there are more people behind bars for a drug offense than the number of people who were in prison or jail for any crime in 1980. The number of people sentenced to prison for property and violent crimes has also increased even during periods when crime rates have declined.

People in Prisons & Jails for Drug Offenses, 1980 & 2016
19802016State PrisonsFederal PrisonsJails060,000120,000180,000

Location 1980 2016
State Prisons 19,000 197,200
Federal Prisons 4,700 81,900
Jails 17,200 171,245
Data source: Bureau of Justice Statistics; The Sentencing Project. Download chart

We started sending people to prison for much longer terms.

Number of People Serving Life Sentences, 1984-2016
1984199220032005200820122016050,000100,000150,000

Year Number of People Serving Life Sentences
1984 34,000
1992 69,845
2003 127,677
2005 132,000
2008 142,727
2012 157,966
2016 161,957
Data source: The Sentencing Project. Download chart
Harsh sentencing laws like mandatory minimums, combined with cutbacks in parole release, keep people in prison for longer periods of time. The National Research Council reported that half of the 222% growth in the state prison population between 1980 and 2010 was due to an increase of time served in prison for all offenses. There has also been a historic rise in the use of life sentences: one in nine people in prison is now serving a life sentence, nearly a third of whom are sentenced to life without parole.

Mass incarceration has not touched all communities equally

The racial impact of mass incarceration

Sentencing policies, implicit racial bias, and socioeconomic inequity contribute to racial disparities at every level of the criminal justice system. Today, people of color make up 37% of the U.S. population but 67% of the prison population. Overall, African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences. Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men and Hispanic men are more than twice as likely to be incarcerated as non-Hispanic white men.

Lifetime Likelihood of Imprisonment for U.S. Residents Born in 2001

lifetime likelihood

This estimate is based on data from 2001. Data source: Bureau of Justice Statistics. Download infographic

Mass incarceration and public safety

Incarceration has some impact on crime, but the impact is one of diminishing returns.

Crime rates have declined substantially since the early 1990s, but studies suggest that rising imprisonment has not played a major role in this trend. The National Research Council concluded that while prison growth was a factor in reducing crime, “the magnitude of the crime reduction remains highly uncertain and the evidence suggests it was unlikely to have been large.” Several factors explain why this impact was relatively modest.

First, incarceration is particularly ineffective at reducing certain kinds of crimes: in particular, youth crimes, many of which are committed in groups, and drug crimes. When people get locked up for these offenses, they are easily replaced on the streets by others seeking an income or struggling with addiction.

Second, people tend to “age out” of crime. Research shows that crime starts to peak in the mid- to late- teenage years and begins to decline when individuals are in their mid-20s. After that, crime drops sharply as adults reach their 30s and 40s. The National Research Council study concludes:

“Because recidivism rates decline markedly with age, lengthy prison sentences, unless they specifically target very high-rate or extremely dangerous offenders, are an inefficient approach to preventing crime by incapacitation.”

As a result, the excessive sentencing practices in the U.S. are largely counterproductive and extremely costly.

State Expenditures on Corrections in Billions, 1985-2016
1985199019952000200520102016015304560

Year State Expenditures on Corrections
1985 $6.7 Billion
1990 $16.9 Billion
1995 $26.1 Billion
2000 $36.4 Billion
2005 $42.3 Billion
2010 $51.4 Billion
2016 $57.7 Billion
Data source: National Association of State Budget Officers. Download chart

Significant reforms in recent years

After nearly 40 years of continued growth, the U.S. prison population has stabilized in recent years.

This is partially a result of declining crime rates, but has largely been achieved through pragmatic changes in policy and practice. For more than a decade, the political climate of criminal justice reform has been evolving toward evidence-based, commonsense approaches to public safety. This can be seen in a variety of legislative, judicial, and policy changes that have successfully decreased incarceration without adverse impacts on public safety.

At the state level:

  • California voters passed ballot measure Proposition 47 in 2014, which reclassified certain low-level property and drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, and will reinvest some of the fiscal savings into prevention programs
  • New York policymakers reformed the Rockefeller drug laws in 2009, which imposed harsh mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenses

At the federal level:

  • In 2014, the United States Sentencing Commission unanimously voted to reduce excessive sentences for up to 46,000 people currently serving time for federal drug offenses
  • Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010, which reduced the disparity in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine offenses
    As promising as these changes may be, we are a long way from solving our national problem of mass incarceration—and the way forward is clear.

Where do we need to go from here?

Just as a bicycle works best when it uses different gears based on the terrain, we need a justice system that has different responses for different situations—shifting gears to treatment, prevention, and long-term public safety solutions as appropriate. By taking a practical approach to criminal justice reform, we can decrease crime, enhance public safety, and make more responsible use of our resources.

In particular, we need to start by:

  • Eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and cutting back on excessively lengthy sentences; for example, by imposing a 20-year maximum on prison terms.
  • Shifting resources to community-based prevention and treatment for substance abuse.
  • Investing in interventions to that promote strong youth development and respond to delinquency in age-appropriate and evidence-based ways.
  • Examining and addressing the policies and practices, conscious or not, that contribute to racial inequity at every stage of the justice system.
  • Removing barriers that make it harder for individuals with criminal records to turn their lives around.

AUGUSTA — A city man was arrested Thursday night after allegedly threatening to cut three people’s throats.

Christopher Paul Lord, 42, was arrested on charges of domestic violence terrorizing with a dangerous weapon and domestic violence criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon after his girlfriend and another victim told police about the threats, according to a police affidavit.

Police arrested Lord at his apartment on 47 Mill St. around 7:48 p.m. Thursday. He is now being held without bail at Kennebec County jail.

When Augusta Police Officer Michael Unterkoefler arrived at the apartment that night, he wrote in the affidavit, Lord’s girlfriend was standing in the driveway in bare feet even though the weather was cold and rainy.

The girlfriend, who was distraught, told police that Lord had “threatened to slice her throat” after he got angry about one of her friends leaving belongings on his porch, Unterkoefler wrote. The girlfriend also said that Lord had allegedly threatened to cut the throats of two other people: her friend who left her belongings at the home and a man.

The girlfriend “told me that Christopher wants everyone dead,” Unterkoefler wrote. She “said Christopher had two knives on his hips and a flashlight in his hand. (She) indicated that Christopher got inches away from her and threatened to slice her throat. (She) indicated Christopher was holding a flashlight very close to her face.”

The girlfriend also told Unterkoefler she crawled out of the window of the apartment to get away from Lord, he wrote in the affidavit. Police spoke with the woman who left her belongings at the apartment, and she described the same alleged threats by Lord.

Before police arrested Lord Thursday night, he told them he was angry about the woman’s belongings being at the home and said he didn’t want her living there, they wrote in the affidavit. Lord also allegedly told police that he threatened to stab the three people.

“I asked Christopher what was going through his head at the time,” Unterkoefler wrote. “Christopher stated that he did not know and his mind was racing. Christopher advised that he would not harm (his girlfriend) and that was not his intentions.”

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Political Prisoners

Welcome to the blog from inmates of Maine's jails and prisons.

In collaboration with the Holistic Recovery Project, the Political Prisoners Blog provides a prisoner's view into what's happening at Maine's correctional facilities.

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