Public Justice Lauds the American Bar Association for Taking a Standing Against Private Prisons
Groups Urge State Bar Associations and Legislatures to Follow Suit
This past summer, the American Bar Association passed Resolution 507, opposing the use of private jails, prisons, and juvenile detention centers to detain people before they stand trial and after they are convicted.
In its report, the ABA found “first, that mixing profit with the core governmental function of incarceration leads to damaging consequences for prisoners, employees (of both private and public prisons), and the public at large while benefiting a small group of executives and shareholders” and “second, that the implementation of for-profit incarceration in the United States hampers access to justice, particularly for already marginalized groups.”
In response to ABA’s action toward putting an end to the private prison industry, Public Justice released the following statement:
Public Justice fully supports the ABA’s decision to adopt Resolution 507, and strongly encourages state bar associations to adopt the same. Privatization of prisons creates perverse, immoral incentives that lead to exploitation, draconian prison sentences, and inhumane living conditions, rather than public safety and rehabilitation.
As the ABA’s Resolution 507 Report states, “an increase in the number of human beings placed into America’s prisons is good news” for the private prison industry. Indeed, these corporations routinely lobby governments to expand detention for illegal immigration, to support mandatory minimums, and to make prison sentences longer across the board. They even build new prisons in anticipation of increased incarceration before they have even secured a government contract.
As these corporations try to incarcerate more and more people, they simultaneously cut back on rehabilitation or educational programs, eliminate important safety measures, cut staff, and fail to provide adequate food and healthcare services, frequently resulting in unsafe overcrowding and unconstitutional conditions. None of this should come as a surprise—it’s exactly what one would expect from an entity seeking, above all else, to maximize its profits.
Not only does the privatization of prisons lead to mass incarceration and inhumane conditions, but it also reduces accountability and access to justice.
Public Justice has seen firsthand the unique challenges that prisoners and detainees face in holding private corporations liable for violating their civil rights in court. Private prisons and detention centers are exempt from the open public record requirements that apply to government-run facilities, making it harder for the public and legislative bodies to hold these private corporate actors accountable.
Resolution 507 sends a clear message to private prison corporations that the legal community will stand for justice over profits. But we need more than words. Some jurisdictions have already taken strong steps: For example, Washington, California, and Nevada have all passed bills that aim to end state reliance on private prisons and detention centers. It is time for other government bodies to follow suit. Public Justice joins the ABA in urging federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal officials to take the necessary steps to stop using private prisons and detention centers, and to repeal 18 U.S.C. § 4003 and similar state, local, territorial and tribal laws.