CHRISTOPHER PETRELLA: We’ve reached a point where two opposing forces are beginning to collide. The first is a rapidly expanding mass of citizens disturbed by the lack of transparency and accountability within the private prison industry; a few years ago it seemed the only people concerned were those of us in smaller “social justice communities.” Now, articles on prison privatization are popping up all over the place: the New York Times, Washington Post, L.A. Review of Books....The second vector is what’s best described as “concentrated growth.” Although, according to a recent BJS [Bureau of Justice Statistics] study, the total U.S. prison population decreased over the last year, those in privately-operated federal facilities grew by 20%. It’s the single largest area of corrections and detention growth in the country. My sense in speaking with people, including Alex, is that the public is hungry for answers and now has enough information at its disposal to start asking the right, tough questions.
ALEX FRIEDMANN: Right now the level of private prison involvement on the federal level is at an all-time high. CCA and GEO are getting upwards of 40% of their revenue from federal sources. As long as this is occurring, there is a greater need than ever for transparency. For example, in May 2012 there was a large-scale riot at a CCA-operated Bureau of Prisons facility in Mississippi, which resulted in the death of a CCA employee. With a public corrections agency, to find out what happened you’d file a FOIA request, get information on the riot and learn how this guy was killed. But since it’s a CCA prison and FOIA does not apply, you can’t easily obtain information about what happened.