Problems with Private Prisons

The problems that plague private prisons like Corrections Corporation of America is not news. However, these stats are worth sharing because the public needs to decided if it’s going to continue to support the use of correctional facilities that profit off of the misery of others. Is it ethical to run prisons whose primary mission is to keep the number of incarcerate individuals high so they can  turn a profit for their investors?

Private Prisons: A Look at the Statistics

Prison Sexuality

Prison sexuality refers to the sexual relationships of individuals confined to correctional facilities. Sexual relationships behind bars may include consensual and nonconsensual inmate-to-inmate sex, or conjugal visits. Prison administrators face some serious questions about how to deal with sexual relationships within their facilities. It is important that they make ethical decisions about policies regarding prison sexuality i.e., policies that seem fair and equitable.
In 1958, Gresham Sykes was the first to write about the pains of imprisonment in his book, The Society of Captives. These pains consist of the deprivation of liberty, goods and services, autonomy, security, and heterosexual relationships. The latter deprivation forces prisoners to seek alternative means for achieving sexual gratification including masturbation, consensual same-sex sexual activity, or coerced same-sex sexual activity. Inmates also may be able participate in conjugal visits with their legal spouse, but this practice is rare (i.e., only six states currently allow it).
Consensual same-sex relationships are relatively common in both male and female prisons. Many inmates report that they were not homosexual when they entered prison but that the need for sexual release was so strong they decided to be “gay for the stay.” Males claim that their participation in homosexual behavior is driven primarily by the need for sexual gratification, while females report the need for both emotional and physical intimacy. There are individuals who enter the prison system who identify as homosexual, too. Like their heterosexual counterparts, homosexual inmates often participate in sexual relationships during their incarceration.
Offenders in most prisons are prohibited from any type of sexual behavior. For example, inmates are not allowed to masturbate or to possess any form of pornographic material while incarcerated. Prison officials often defend such policies on the grounds that masturbatory discharges (seminal and vaginal fluids) may pose a serious health risk for staff and other prisoners. There are reports in male prisons of inmates that have used semen as a weapon and thrown it at correctional staff. The fear is that others will be exposed to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like the HIV/AIDS virus.
Masturbation is preferable to some inmates more so than seeking out a homosexual relationship. Married inmates report masturbation allows them the sexual release they need while remaining faithful to their spouses on the outside. Additionally, inmates argue that masturbation allows them a sexual release without seeking out a homosexual relationship that might potentially expose them to the HIV/AIDS virus. Male inmates also argue that masturbation allows them to release their pent up sexual aggression, which reduces the likelihood of sexually assaulting another inmate.
Correctional facilities have strict policies against homosexual behavior, too. The need for sexual gratification is a basic human need. The need for sexual gratification coupled with the fact that an inmate’s choices are limited, creates a situation where homosexual behavior may be a natural outcome. Consensual same-sex relationships may help to reduce sexual assault in prison, especially in male prisons. Male prisoners also report that allowing them a sexual outlet reduces the likelihood that they will physically assault staff or other prisoners. Likewise, female prisoners report that they feel less anxious and/or aggressive after having sex. However, Angela Pardue and her colleagues note that homosexual behavior in women’s prisons often increases the likelihood of violence because homosexuality may lead to both the economic and sexual exploitation of prisoners. For example, more experienced inmates may pressure less experienced inmates into homosexual behavior in exchange for protection or commissary.
Participating in homosexual behavior may potentially expose the participants to STIs. Several prisons and jails throughout the United States issue inmates condoms as part of their orientation to prison. Many prison administrators concede that homosexual behavior is a logical consequence of incarceration and the use of condoms is necessary to prevent the spread of STIs. Those who oppose this practice suggest that condom distribution will lead to increased sexual behavior including sexual assault. They also fear condom use will lead to an increase in drug use (i.e., inmates will use the condoms to hide drugs anally) or will disrupt prison operations. Research indicates that these fears are unfounded and that access to condoms does not interrupt the prison routine, represents no threat to security or operations, does not lead to an increase in sexual activity or drug use, and is accepted by most prisoners and staff once it is introduced.
Prison sexuality may lead to sexual violence. There are three major forms of sexual violence that have been identified in female correctional facilities: (1) manipulation, (2) compliance, and (3) coercion. Manipulation refers to using sex as a bartering tool in which sexual favors are performed in exchange for goods or services. Compliance occurs when a female prison reluctantly but submissively participates in sexual behavior because of some real or perceived threat. Sexual coercion ranges from implicit to explicit pressure to engage in sexual behaviors. These forms of sexual violence can be committed by (a) a prisoner against a staff member, (b) a prisoner against another prisoner, and (c) a staff member against a prisoner.
Some prison administrators have policies that permit conjugal visits between legal spouses. Six states allow conjugal visits: California, Connecticut, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, and Washington. Conjugal visits are available in both male and female prisons. These visits may serve two purposes—controlling homosexual behavior and the preservation of the family. Inmates who have conjugal visits are less likely to participate in same-sex relationships. Prison administrators who permit conjugal visits believe this is also the first step in preserving and/or reestablishing family bonds. As a result, prisons no longer call them conjugal visits but instead use the term “extended family visits.” Increasing the family bond also increases the odds that inmates will stay out of prison.
Many prisoners will choose to participate in same-sex relationship during their incarceration. Prison administrators should do what they can to reduce the likelihood of violence and the spread of STIs. Prison officials should also institute polices regarding sexuality that are reasonable and fair.

Allegations of Sexual Abuse at Karnes County Residential Center

The Karnes County Residential Center (KCRC) houses immigrant families who cross the U.S. border. KCRC serves a temporary holding facility for these individuals until they receive deportation hearings. However, allegations of sexual assault and abuse have surfaced.

Several women allege that they were sexually abused by guards and others workers at KCRC. The allegations include stories of the workers removing the women ate night from their cells for sex while others indicate they were fondled. Some of the guards allegedly requested sexual favors in exchange for money or promised detainees assistance with their cases in exchange for sex.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) sent a letter to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security calling for an immediate investigation into the alleged abuses at KCRC. Read more about the allegations here.

Please consider signing the petition urging the Department of Homeland Security Office of Civil Rights to investigate the workers at KCRC.

Sign the petition to stop sexual abuse at Karnes.

Ban the Box: Giving Offenders a Fair Chance

“Ban the Box”

The National Employment Law Project (2014) estimates that 70 million Americans—one in four—adults have a criminal record. The majority of employers include questions about a person’s criminal background on their job applications and they use it to screen out applicant with a criminal history. “Ban the Box” or “Second Chance” is a movement to eliminate questions about criminal backgrounds from public employment applications. The goal of the movement is to defer a job applicant’s criminal background check until the applicant has been selected for an interview. The Legal Services for Prisoners with Children supports removing the box from applications for housing, public benefits, insurance, loans, and other services, too. In addition, proponents believe that this law should be extended to include private employers.

Benefits of “Ban the Box”

There are several benefits to adopting ban the box laws. First, it eliminates discrimination against individuals with prior criminal histories based solely on one global question. Removal of the box allows those with a criminal history to remain in consideration for the job at which time they have the opportunity to explain their criminal histories to potential employers. Second, it does not prevent employers for conducting criminal background checks on individuals before they are actually hired. However, if they applicant is otherwise qualified for the position, the hope is that employers will ultimately hire the applicant. Finally, employers working with protected or vulnerable populations (e.g., jobs working with children or the elderly) are exempt from the law. In other words, the law is a middle ground compromise that increases the odds that those with criminal records will be treated fairly during the employment process while simultaneously protecting the public.

Why Should We Care?

Offenders face significant obstacles once they are released from prison, with employment being a major one. We know that employment is an important component of successful prisoner reentry. For example, research shows that employment significantly reduces the likelihood of reoffending (Latessa, 2012; Morenoff and Harding, 2011; Visher, Debus, and Yahner, 2008) and success on parole (National Institute of Health, 2010). Therefore, the ban the box law increases the odds that those with a criminal record may find employment and reduce the likelihood that they commit future offenses.

Major U.S Cities and Counties that Banned the Box

















New Hampshire*

New Jersey

New Mexico*

New York

North Carolina




Rhode Island*






*States that have legislation or administrative orders to ban the box


Latessa, E. J. (2012). Why work is important and how to improve the effectiveness of correctional reentry programs that target employment. Criminology and Public Policy, 11(1), 87-91.

Morenoff, J. D. and Harding, D. J. (2011). Final Technical Report: Neighborhoods, Recidivism, and Employment Among Returning Prisoners. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

National Employment Law Project. (2014). Statewide ban the box reducing unfair barriers to employment of people with criminal records. Retrieved from

National Institute of Corrections. (2010). Is employment associated with reduced recidivism? The complex relationship between employment and crime. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Corrections.

Visher, C., Debus, S., and Yahner, J. (2004). Employment after prison: A longitudinal study of releases in three states. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute.