Inside Private Prisons

An American Dilemma in the Age of Mass Incarceration

Lauren-Brooke Eisen

Columbia University Press

Inside Private Prisons

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Pub Date: November 2017

ISBN: 9780231179706

336 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $32.00£26.95

Pub Date: November 2017

ISBN: 9780231542319

336 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $31.99£26.95

Inside Private Prisons

An American Dilemma in the Age of Mass Incarceration

Lauren-Brooke Eisen

Columbia University Press

When the tough-on-crime politics of the 1980s overcrowded state prisons, private companies saw potential profit in building and operating correctional facilities. Today more than a hundred thousand of the 1.5 million incarcerated Americans are held in private prisons in twenty-nine states and federal corrections. Private prisons are criticized for making money off mass incarceration—to the tune of $5 billion in annual revenue. Based on Lauren-Brooke Eisen’s work as a prosecutor, journalist, and attorney at policy think tanks, Inside Private Prisons blends investigative reportage and quantitative and historical research to analyze privatized corrections in America.

From divestment campaigns to boardrooms to private immigration-detention centers across the Southwest, Eisen examines private prisons through the eyes of inmates, their families, correctional staff, policymakers, activists, Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees, undocumented immigrants, and the executives of America’s largest private prison corporations. Private prisons have become ground zero in the anti-mass-incarceration movement. Universities have divested from these companies, political candidates hesitate to accept their campaign donations, and the Department of Justice tried to phase out its contracts with them. On the other side, impoverished rural towns often try to lure the for-profit prison industry to build facilities and create new jobs. Neither an endorsement or a demonization, Inside Private Prisons details the complicated and perverse incentives rooted in the industry, from mandatory bed occupancy to vested interests in mass incarceration. If private prisons are here to stay, how can we fix them? This book is a blueprint for policymakers to reform practices and for concerned citizens to understand our changing carceral landscape.
Inside Private Prisons is a careful, discerning assessment of our transformation of human incarceration into product and profit. Lauren-Brooke Eisen has compiled a definitive history of the phenomenon and has done so with more precision and equanimity than many of us can manage. If you want to intelligently argue about the modern prison-industrial complex, begin your studies here. David Simon, creator of The Wire
Lauren-Brooke Eisen’s study of private prisons is long awaited, powerful, and a critically important read for all citizens who seek to understand the relationship between profit and incarceration, and who hope to protect those who find themselves locked up in private facilities across the nation. From Colorado to South Texas to Wisconsin, and from CCA/CiviCore to GEO Group, Eisen takes us inside a world that many of us revile, but know virtually nothing about. She not only explodes many a myth about private prisons as well as detention centers but ultimately offers an invaluable blueprint for humanizing them. Like it or not, she points out, they are real places where real people, at least for the foreseeable future, will be contained. Heather Ann Thompson, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy
Lauren-Brooke Eisen illuminates the history of private prisons and their place in the current environment and the future of mass incarceration in America—which we are trying to minimize. She incorporates individual interviews with a collation of quantitative data to strike a balance between fine detail and the big picture of the complex and still-evolving discourse of private corrections; a vital discussion for the future of our criminal justice and immigration policies. Ernest Drucker, author of A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America
Questioned during the Obama administration and embraced during the Trump administration, prisons run by private corporations remain a controversial part of the penal landscape in the United States. This book provides a comprehensive and fair-minded look at American private prisons, explaining how such prisons were a product and sometimes a propelling force of mass incarceration. Eisen provides invaluable insight into how private prisons actually operate, why they are likely to continue to exist, and what can be done to make them safer, more effective, and more humane instruments of criminal justice. Carol S. Steiker, Harvard University
In a welcome departure from much of the work on private prisons, Eisen doesn’t view the profit motive as inherently wrong, but rather asks the important question of how (and whether) we can structure firms’ incentives to achieve more just outcomes. John Pfaff, author of Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform
An admirably researched look at an ominous aspect of criminal justice. Kirkus Reviews
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. The Prison Buildup and the Birth of Private Prisons
2. How the Government Privatized
3. Prisoners as Commodities
4. The Prison Industrial Complex
5. Private Prisons and the American Heartland
6. The Prison Divestment Movement
7. The Politics of Private Prisons
8. Shadow Prisons: Inside Private Immigrant Detention Centers
9. Public Prisons Versus Private Prisons
10. Wrestling with the Concept of Private Prisons
11. The Future of Private Prisons
Conclusion
Notes
Index

About the Author

Lauren-Brooke Eisen is senior counsel in the Brennan Center's Justice Program, where she focuses on changing financial incentives in the criminal-justice system. Previously she was a senior program associate at the Vera Institute of Justice in the Center on Sentencing and Corrections, served as an assistant district attorney in New York City, and taught criminal justice at Yale College and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.