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Week of 5.9.08

Prisons for Profit

Corporations are running many Americans prisons, but will they put profits before prisoners?

A grim new statistic: One in every hundred Americans is now locked behind bars. As the prison population grows faster than the government can build prisons, private companies see an opportunity for profit.

This week, NOW on PBS investigates the government's trend to outsource prisons and prisoners to the private sector. Critics accuse private prisons of standing in the way of sentencing reform and sacrificing public safety to maximize profits.

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"The notion that a corporation making a profit off this practice is more important to us than public safety or the human rights of prisoners is outrageous," Judy Greene, a criminal policy analyst, tells NOW on PBS.

Companies like Corrections Corporation of America say they're doing their part to solve the problem of inmate overflow and a shortage of beds without sacrificing safety.

"You don't cut corners to where it's going to be a safety, security or health issue," Richard Smelser, warden of the Crowley Correctional Facility in Colorado tells NOW. The prison is run by Corrections Corporation, which had revenues of over $1.4 billion last year.

The Crowley prison made headlines back in 2004 after a major prison riot caused overwhelmed staff to run away from the facility. Outside law enforcement had to come in to put down the uprising.

"The problems that were identified in the wake of the riot are typical of the private prison industry and happen over and over again," Green tells NOW.

This week NOW travels to Colorado, where the controversy over private prisons is boiling over. The hot question: should incarceration be incorporated?

Related Links: Groups for Prison Privatization: Groups Against Prison Privatization: