Capitalist Punishment: Prison Privatization & Human Rights

Capitalist Punishment: Prison Privatization & Human Rights

Capitalist Punishment: Prison Privatization & Human Rights

Capitalist Punishment: Prison Privatization & Human Rights


This is a comprehensive study of one of the most important contemporary issues confronting prison reform - prison privatization and human rights. It discusses privatization in its historical and ideological context, and in relation to United Nations standards and rules.


The purpose of this book is to fill the relative void on the subject of prison privatization within a literature on incarceration that is otherwise vast and varied. Over 100,000 people in the United States are currently detained in prisons owned and operated by private corporations, but the phenomenon is not limited to the US. Private prisons have been opened in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. They have most recently been introduced in Canada and South Africa, and they are in the process of being exported to developing countries. Although the most recent form of prison privatization dates back to the 1980s, it is important to recognize that only a few countries are involved and they are still in the experimental stages of privatization. As they test the waters, undoubtedly looking to the US as a model, it is crucial that they be able to weigh all of the evidence.

Supporters of prison privatization have argued that private prisons make good sense. Private prison corporations promise reduced costs to governments, better and more cost-effective services to prisoners, and increased security for people living in communities where prisons are located. Much of the evidence throughout this book, however, does not support their position. Instead, it points to decreased security, poor employment standards and inadequate protection of prisoners' human rights. The first chapters locate the US experience with prison privatization in its recent historical context.

For Philip Wood, in chapter 1, prison privatization is part of the development of the “prison industrial complex”, a term used to describe the multifaceted growth in the American criminal justice system as an industry. In his opinion, increased private sector involvement is one of three interrelated trends that have contributed to the complex. It needs to be understood alongside and together with increased incarceration rates and “penal regression”, which entails a shift away from social and moral considerations towards a tolerance of violence as a means of social control, racism, and the tendency towards punishment rather than rehabilitation. He examines various explanations for the emergence of these trends and concludes that the prison industrial complex rose to prominence alongside a transformation of both economic development models and popular forms of social control that allowed Southern traditions of penal racialization and criminalization to come to the forefront of national policies in the 1960s. In the national penal system the tendency towards punitive policies in response to the social rebellion of the era, intertwined with economic restructuring after an economic crisis, reinforced racial considerations and criminalization.

In chapter 2, Christian Parenti argues that incarceration rates in the USA increased as part of a movement that employs incarceration as a means of statemanaged social control, which divides and maintains social stratifications such as race and class. During the 1980s and 1990s, the number of for-profit private prisons . . .

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