Pope Francis kisses a prisoner’s foot during the traditional washing of the feet at the Rebibbia’s jail in Rome, Italy in April 2015.
It’d be easier for politicians if the Pope’s scheduled visit to a Philadelphia jail was more of a general questioning of U.S. prison practices, but thanks to keen campaigners and journalists, it’s a moment to focus on the particulars of that jail, Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. For it, like thousands of other facilities, does a raring trade with private companies and makes bank off of the prisoners and families of the incarcerated.
Pope’s Visit to Jail Spotlights Problems with For-Profit Prison Industry
When Pope Francis speaks to prisoners this Sunday at a Philadelphia jail, he’ll be speaking at the intersection of two of his papacy’s most prominent themes, criminal justice and inequality. At Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, five companies with track records of either harming or overcharging prisoners have contracts to provide services.
Corizon, a prison health care company owned by a Chicago-based private equity firm, has attracted scrutiny in a number of states for habitual inadequate care, prisoner deaths, and understaffing. In 2013, Philadelphia renewed its contract with Corizon to provide health care to prisoners at city facilities, despite this past performance. Also at Curran-Fromhold is foodservice company Aramark, a public corporation that recently had its contract with the state of Michigan canceled after employees engaged in sexual acts with prisoners and maggots were found in food.
These examples underscore that when prisoners experience harm and neglect in our criminal justice system-described by the Pope as “illicit and concealed punishment”-it is often by the hands of private companies.
Joining Corizon and Aramark at Curran-Fromhold are three contractors with histories of overcharging prisoners. The Pope has been a loud voice for the poor, those most affected by these companies across a number of states:
- Financial services and technology company, JPay, often charges excessive fees on prisoner money transfers. The company also supplies cards to released prisoners in at least 11 states and adds fees that far exceed normal prepaid card fees.
- GTL, a corrections telecommunications company, is one of a number of companies that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has found charge ‘exorbitant’ rates for interstate long-distance calls.
- Keefe Group has charged high prices for canteen supplies, putting essential goods outside the budgets of many prisoners. For example, when the Florida Department of Corrections renewed its contract with Keefe Group in 2009, the company’s price increases provoked outcries from prisoners and their families.
These contractors, along with Corizon and Aramark, impact much of our criminal justice system. JPay provides money transfer services to 1.7 million incarcerated people in 32 states, nearly 70% of all U.S. prisoners. GTL controls 50% of the call service market for correctional facilities, with contracts that cover 1.1 million inmates in 2,100 local, state, and federal facilities.
Lawmakers often contract with the private sector believing that outsourcing will ease budget pressure. But private prison companies have an imperative to make profit, which often comes in conflict with providing quality services. This conflict not only hurts prisoners and prison staff, but communities and taxpayers as well. Research and the recent experiences of states show that the promised cost savings often fail to materialize for government agencies that contract with prison companies.
“To win government contracts, private corporations say they run prisons and provide services cheaper and more efficiently, but the evidence says otherwise,” said Donald Cohen, Executive Director of In the Public Interest. “Curbing privatization is one way to act on the Pope’s messages by reinvesting the money now going to private profit into programs for rehabilitation, education, and job training.”
The burden of prison companies to profit off of justice is not lost on the Pope, who has said that capitalism “has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature.”
After the Philadelphia visit, faith groups and advocates will launch a nationwide effort to act on the Pope’s messages, including asking their county officials and state legislators to end for-profit contracting in their local jails and prisons.
For more info, contact Jeremy Mohler at In The Public Interest
email@example.com / 202-429-5091
In the Public Interest is a comprehensive resource center on outsourcing, responsible contracting, and best practices for good government.
PICO is a national network of faith-based community organizations working to create innovative solutions to problems facing urban, suburban and rural communities. Since 1972 PICO has successfully worked to increase access to health care, improve public schools, make neighborhoods safer, build affordable housing, redevelop communities and revitalize democracy.