“Bodies in Beds” exposes private prison industry
Prison in Illinois. | public domain photo

There should be no surprise that the Trump administration has boosted the bottom line for privatized prison companies such as CoreCivic (formerly CCA or Corrections Corporation of America), GEO, Management and Training Corporation, and others. And, their stock is likely to soar with the increased imprisonment of more immigrants. For this reason, the Trump administration bolstered by the lobbying organization for privatized prisons is opposed to immigration reform. There is good money to be made by locking up immigrants.

However, having more people incarcerated does not make our country safer. Ironically, just the opposite is true. A report from the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (2010) claims that 65 percent of all U.S. inmates meet medical criteria for substance abuse addiction, but only 11 percent receive any treatment. The largest numbers of individuals who are incarcerated do not receive adequate or even any substance abuse treatment or help with their mental health and these problems afflict the majority of inmates.

About 20 percent of prison inmates have a serious mental illness, 30 to 60 percent have substance-abuse problems and, when including broad-based mental illnesses, the percentages increase significantly. For example, 50 percent of males and 75 percent of female inmates in state prisons, and 75 percent of females and 63 percent of male inmates in jails, will experience a mental health problem requiring mental health services in any given year, according to Dean Aufderheide writing in Health Affairs Blog.

Without such substance-abuse and mental health treatment, their conditions will worsen. This means that the time they spend in prison does not help them when they get out to know how to lead lives any better than when they were imprisoned. This alone leads to recidivism. And, peer pressure often means that they learn from each other—how to be better at being robbers, drug dealers, gangsters, or whatever “profession” they had on entrance. And, things are even worse at privatized prisons.

In a new book, Bodies in Beds: Why Business Should Stay Out of Prisons, the author takes on the private prison industry’s thirst for profit at the expense of offenders, taxpayers, and staff. The author contends that the private prison industry is only interested in maximizing the number of people it has in prisons, not in rehabilitating them—hence the title—Bodies in Beds. In fact, helping inmates avoid prison is counter to the needs of privatized prisons. They want repeat customers because they are paid on a per capita basis. The more prisoners they hold, the more money they receive.

Author Sue Binder, a licensed clinical mental health counselor and addictions counselor examines the issue of privatization from her perspective of thirteen years working as a mental health coordinator in a private prison. She focuses on the failure of the privatized system to provide adequate treatment and successfully integrate inmates back into society. She documents the case of inmates who commit suicide because they did not get the proper mental health treatment.

Bodies in Beds takes the reader from the birth of the first private prison, founded by Corrections Corporation of American (now CivicCore) up through the current status of privatized prisons under the Trump administration.

Using a combination of personal experiences and research, Binder analyzes topics such as safety and security issues for offenders and staff; the huge salaries of the corporation’s chief officers versus employee salaries; and the growing importance of immigration profits for the private prison industry.

In addition, the book reviews the functional structure of the privatized prison with its sole emphasis on profits and lack of attention to staff safety. This is exemplified in the inability of the mental health staff to actually provide counseling or therapy due to insufficient staff and time constraints. It also describes the influence of the privatized industry’s lobbying and strategies for negotiating contracts with states.

Alex Friedmann, associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center and managing editor of Prison Legal News, stated that his only criticism of the book is that “the author should have resigned from her position with CCA and released this account much sooner.”

Binder wrote Bodies in Beds to reveal how privatized prisons do not meet the needs of inmates and cheat staff but are loyal to their shareholders. For more information, click here.


Alice Heiserman
Alice Heiserman

For more than twenty years Alice Heiserman was the manager of publications and research for the American Correctional Association.