The US Private Prison System: how prisons work with corporations

Lina B.

Date published: Fri, 13 August 21

This article is part of a three part series on the private prison system in the United States 

In late June of this year, Connecticut became the first state to provide free calls from prison. Government Ned Lamont signed a bill to make phone calls from prisons free for incarcerated peoples and their loved ones. This move is the first step in mitigating the harmful effects of private prison systems and corporations.

Private prisons operate on one element – profit. As a result, companies and corporations that seek to benefit from the private prison system and the mass incarceration rate of Black and Hispanic Americans are plentiful. From food to phone calls to emails, incarcerated people or their families must pay high fees to these companies. The Center for Public Integrity and CNBC reported that companies like JPay Inc. collect millions of dollars from inmates’ families for basic financial services.

Governments have been increasing the costs to inmates’ families, requiring them to pay for basic needs such as toothpaste, doctors visits, clothes, toilet paper, electricity, and room and board.

JPay Inc. handles deposits into inmate accounts, which used to be handled by money orders previously. EJI reports that nearly 400,000 people are incarcerated in states where there is no free deposit option, and JPay provides money transfers to more than 1.7 million inmates in 32 states. JPay charges fees up to 45%, meaning that the corporation is making an extremely large profit off of inmates and their families.

The prisons will receive a percentage from this fee, profiting off of inmates’ families. In Connecticut, states were making 68% commission on in-state calls, through a contract with Securus Technologies, a prison phone provider. Connecticut made over $7 million in 2019 through this contract.

Families rely on phone calls to keep in touch with incarcerated relatives. Researchers have even outlined that there are benefits to maintaining contact with family during incarceration – it can lead to lower recidivism rates. Many family members also cannot travel to prisons to visit, as distances are long and expensive.

The problems of the private prison system is that it treats humans, incarcerated peoples, as objects to create profit. Incarceration, rather than helping to reform an individual, perpetuates an exploitative and oppressive system that targets the Black American, in addition to other non-white minorities. Private prisons are used to line the pockets of its wardens, governors, and state representatives. These policies and systems create perpetual harm to communities rather than helping to create systemic change and reform throughout America.

As Connecticut has changed its laws to allow free phone calls to inmates and their families, criminal justice reform must be enacted nationwide. We call for the institutional reform of the private prison system.