Profit and Prisons | Slavery By Another Name

De facto segregation through police violence, workplace discrimination and income, education and criminal justice disparities is an American reality. Opportunities for Black and Brown communities have been intentionally thwarted through intergenerationally maintained oppression. What drives this? The same institution that has fueled this country since its birth – slavery. The institution of slavery built the America we live in today through the exploitation of free labor of enslaved Africans. Slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865 – except when it is used as punishment for a crime. Under this loophole in letter and law, slavery by another name, the private prison industry, has continued in this country as a systemic form of oppression motivated by profit.

The private prison industry is thriving - corporations like Corrections Corporation of America, Youth Services International and GEO Group International have seen growth of 1600% over the past 15 years. These for-profit companies are incentivized to cut costs and maximize profits, and aren't subject to statues of transparency like the Freedom of Information Act or mandatory public reporting of use of funds and business practices.

Let’s not mince words. Through the proliferation of prisons for profit, the United States is a slaveholder, and private prisons are the cruel overseers who go through extreme means, including documented physical and sexual abuse, lobbying for increased mandatory minimums and fraudulent reporting, to maximize profit. Communities of color have been hypersegregated, economically and opportunity starved, disproportionately criminalized and systemically stunted and enslaved. Since this is all about the numbers, let’s take a look at some:


  • $0.00 - $4.00: The amount inmates in private prisons are paid per day to work for companies like Starbucks, Wal-Mart, Chevron, Victoria’s Secret, McDonalds, Boeing, even the U.S. Military, for everything from  harvesting crops, to manufacturing apparel and military equipment, even serving as operators in call centers. Despite the desperate need for jobs for members of the working class in the United States, private prisons provide free to cheap labor, minimizing costs and maximizing profits. Ironically, many of the prisoners will have jobs in prison that they cannot obtain upon their release due to their criminal records
  • 50%:  Nearly half of all immigrant detainees are now held in privately run detention facilities. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has stepped up its game to detain more undocumented immigrants – about 400,000 each year – increasing the need for private systems, as most detainees will linger in the system awaiting for court dates for months if not years
  • 10 – 60 Pounds: Weight lost by underfed inmates who had become emaciated after documented cases of private prisons skimping meals to minimize costs
  •  90%: The typical so called “lock-up quota” states agree to in contracts with private prisons. Under these contracts, the states are obligated to keep prisons almost full, or pay penalties; incentivizing them to lock-up more people, with longer sentences
  • 11 times: Though crime has reduced drastically overall, there are 11 times as many people in jail for drug convictions than there were in 1980, constituting 50% of the prison population. Longer mandatory minimum sentences keep inmates in longer. Most people incarcerated for drug charges are non-violent, have no prior record, and are addicts rather than major drug-traffickerss
  • 10 times: Despite whites being 5 times more likely to use drugs, Blacks are 10 times more likely to be imprisoned for drug use. Black people serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months)
  • $45 million: The amount the three largest for-profit prison corporations have spent over the last decade on campaign donations and lobbyists to keep politicians on the side of privatized incarceration
  • $5.7 million: The executive compensation for the GEO Group CEO, George Zoley
  • $1.48 billion: The revenue earned by GEO Group in 2012, according to their annual reports
  • $30.5 million: Revenues attributed to Blackwater River Correctional Facility located in Milton, Florida, a new facility which GEO Group credits for a large increase in revenue between 2010 and 2012
  • $10,000: The amount per person paid to attend a fundraiser for Florida Governor Rick Scott at the home of GEO Group Chief Executive Officer George Zoley
  • $9.9 million:  The amount the State of Florida's Pension Fund, which funds the pensions of all state employees like teachers, state university professors, firefighters, etc., invests 3.6 million dollars into the GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America. These investments are decided by the State Board of Administration of Florida's Retirement System; the three people who serve on that: Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, and the chair of the board, Governor Rick Scott.

The numbers don’t lie. Systemic criminalization of people of color, greed and profit reinforce a cycle of slavery; the state, the politicians, companies and of course the private prisons have financial interests that motivate them to victimize and exploit as opposed to protect and empower. How many are investors of the private prison system and therefore, slave-owners too?

Dream Defenders is committed to organizing against a slave state targeting Black, Latino and immigrant communities to fill their prisons and immigrant detention facilities. We ask you to join us; via Twitter and Instagram on Wednesday, April 29, following #slaveholders, in what we promise will be a robust conversation about the private prison industry; ask more questions about your state, your university and your employer’s investments into the private prison industry; and engage with us in demanding divestment into this system of slavery.