What are the Key Problems of Private or For-Profit State Prisons?

Captain Alexis Fecteau Prison

A lot of people might not know this, but there are a lot of state prisons that are run by private business owners instead of the government.  The government pays these businesses to house, feed, and rehabilitate inmates instead of the government doing all the work.  The decision to do so is understandable as the problem of inmate overpopulation rises.  However, as Captain Alexis Fecteau notes, some privatized prisons are to blame for helping create the problem in the first place.

The main focus of a correctional facility isn’t simply to house inmates until their time of release.  Their main objective should be rehabilitating inmates so that when they get out, they would be able to find jobs and stay away from repeating offenses.  And this would pose a problem for private prisons.  For private prisons, there is an incentive for not rehabilitating inmates properly.  If the inmate bounces back to a life of crime, it would better suit their needs as a business, states Captain Alexis Fecteau.  This is why some privatized state prisons have business models that rely on inmates going back to prison upon release.

A prison’s purpose is to protect the public from criminals, rehabilitating inmates, and punishing them for the crimes they committed.  Private prisons claim that they can do these three points better when clearly, they don’t have any incentive to do so.  In fact, given that they are being run as a business, they tend to perform worse than government-run state prisons.

Private prisons can freely cut back on key spending to increase their profit margin.  They can make cuts from medical supplies, security staff, even the food that inmates eat can be affected, adds Captain Alexis Fecteau.  This has led to subhuman conditions in some state prisons.  For example, some private prisons chose to turn off the heating systems in the inmates’ quarters, practically leaving them inside freezing cells.

While some prisons in developed European countries are shutting down because of low inmate numbers, the land of the free is suffering from having the highest inmate population on the planet.  And while private companies such as the GEO Group and CoreCivic have offered their services to the government to help house and rehabilitate inmates, their impact is yet to be felt.  Include the fact that the government now insists on mandatory minimums and its crackdown on illegal immigrants, this problem will only get worse.  According to Captain Alexis Fecteau, until the government finds a better way of rehabilitating inmates and eliminate its reliance on private prisons, this problem will continue to plague the country.

The Numbers Behind Imprisoned Youth in the US

Captain Alexis Fecteau Denver Court

While America is often called Land of the Free, it is also the country that has the highest incarcerated population in the world.  Multiple factors contribute to this fact. For example, many people from poverty-stricken backgrounds often go to jail because they lack resources to post bail or fight their case.  Instead, they get stuck in jail until the court takes action.  According to Captain Alexis Fecteau, there is also the problem of rehabilitation not really working in some prisons.  Improper rehabilitation could result in released inmates ending up back inside.

One primary reason why America is suffering from having too many people behind bars stems from juvenile sentencing.  As of 2016, over 12,000 people were serving a life sentence that was given to underaged offenders.  The number consists of youth who are serving life without parole, life with parole, and those who are incarcerated for 50 years or more.  This means that a youth who has committed a grave crime who hasn’t fully developed mentally is tried as an adult and given adult sentencing.

Captain Alexis Fecteau states that a further look into imprisoned youth in the U.S. tells, or rather, supports the idea that there is a great disparity when it comes to race and ethnicity.  The criminal justice system has always been marred with problems when it comes to the arrest and charging of criminals, mainly blacks and non-white criminals.  The justice system in charge of sentencing criminal youth faces the same problem.  Over 80% of youth who are serving life sentences are of color, 50% of which are of African American descent.  This is extremely apparent in states such as California, New York, and Texas, notes Captain Alexis Fecteau.

Thankfully, some states are carrying out reforms that grant parole boards the authority to consider the age of the felon at the time when they committed their crime as a factor when assessing their readiness for release.  Unfortunately, most states aren’t required to do so during parole hearings.  So far, California and Missouri are the two exceptions.

In California, parole boards are required to give great weight to a juvenile’s age when defining culpability compared to adults who are being tried for crimes. The parole board must also take into consideration subsequent growth and development of these jailed juveniles as they mature inside the penitentiary system.  According to Captain Alexis Fecteau, if more states were to make such reforms, perhaps the problem of overpopulated state prisons would be eased.

A look at D.C.’s Mass Incarceration Problem

Captain Alexis Fecteau

Captain Alexis Fecteau has been researching and learning about all things criminal justice.  One of the more intriguing topics he has come across is the mass incarceration problem that the District of Columbia is currently facing. 

Looking at the bigger picture, the U.S. has over 2 million people in correctional facilities, which is roughly 25% of the world’s prison population.  It is a huge number, especially when one considers that the U.S. accounts for only 4% of the world’s population.  It is undoubtedly a sign of a mass incarceration problem.

There have been public debates in D.C. on the issue.  The first notable one, according to Captain Alexis Fecteau, explores the legislation that seeks to reduce sentences for convicted individuals under the age of 25.  On the outside looking in, the existence of said legislation does beg for an investigation on the level of incarceration in D.C.  The Sentencing Project, a movement that seeks to make a difference in mass incarceration, has found that for every 100,000 people living in D.C., 930 are incarcerated.  This number puts D.C. in fourth place when it comes to incarceration rates in the U.S., compared to other states.

In September 2019, the U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) for D.C. denied the figure put forth by The Sentencing Project, noting that the incarceration rate in the area was only a third of the numbers presented.  The USAO further stated that D.C.’s incarceration rate was actually lower than most states’.  And Captain Alexis Fecteau finds this interesting, especially if the USAO is right and the numbers vastly overshoot the actual representation.

On The Sentencing Project’s end, the movement has since supported the Second Look Amendment Act of 2019.  The present law of D.C. allows convicted felons younger than 18 who received a sentence of over 15 years, to have their sentence re-examined once a part of their sentence has been served.  The Second Look Amendment Act of 2019 would raise the age of those convicted from 18 to 25.  The Sentencing Project believes that this new bill would give more people second chances to make something out of their lives in society.  Another important fact to consider, which Captain Alexis Fecteau is also hopeful for, is that those convicted change into more productive and responsible members of society, and as such will not pose a threat to the public.