Opinion » Note

The Future of Private Prisons


Last month, Mother Jones published a devastating investigation of a private prison in Louisiana run by Corrections Corporation of America—the nation's largest for-profit prison operator and a corporation that has a troubled history in Idaho, as well.

Titled "My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard," journalist Shane Bauer embedded himself in the day-to-day operations of Winn Correctional Center. He underwent the CCA training program, wore the CCA uniform and spent his days with fellow CCA employees. In five harrowing chapters, Bauer painted the picture of not only an institution run amok—with slipshod policies, abusive treatment, understaffing and criminal behavior on both sides of the bars—but a system on the verge of failure.

Idahoans should be familiar with this story. A version of it happened here when CCA ran the Idaho State Correctional Institution—that is, until 2013, after a series of scandals related to prison staffing and inmate treatment finally led to a parting of the ways (and a hefty settlement) between the state and its erstwhile contractor.

Less than a month after the Mother Jones story, a federal report showed privately run prisons are more costly to operate, more violent and function with less oversight than their government-run counterparts. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a directive that all facilities operated by the Bureau of Prisons but managed by private vendors should be transferred back to state and federal authorities as their contracts run out. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which operates the nation's network of immigration detention facilities, announced Sept. 5 it, too, would review its use of contract prisons.

In the shadow of the continuing controversy over for-profit incarceration, the last private lockup in Idaho has been quietly doing its work in the desert outside Kuna.

Boise Weekly staff writer Harrison Berry toured the facility and spoke to its warden to find out how it operates, what makes it different from prisons like the one exposed by Mother Jones and what its future might be. Find his report on Page 5.