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Privatization of America’s Public Institutions

The Story of the American Sellout

Lawrence Baines

Privatization of America’s Public Institutions describes the transformation of the military, K–12 public schools, public universities and colleges, and prisons into enterprises focused on generating profits for a select few. In many cases, privatization has limited accessibility, promoted segregation, fueled declining standards, increased costs, and reduced quality.

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Chapter 2. Privatizing Corrections: Making Money from Misery


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Making Money from Misery

Two Rivers Detention Center in Hardin, Montana, was built in 2007 from funds from a $27,000,000 bond issued by the city.1 The promise was that the prison would bring in new jobs and stimulate the local economy.2 One of the initial big “investors” in the private prison was a former felon who had spent years incarcerated for a variety of crimes, including grand theft.3

Since its construction, Two Rivers Detention Center has remained mostly unoccupied. A major challenge in filling the prison has been a drop in the crime rate nationwide.4 Since 1993, crime rates have dropped about 50% across the country.5 There simply is not enough crime in Montana to populate Two Rivers Detention Center.

The private prison tried recruiting inmates from public prisons in Wyoming6 and terrorism suspects from Guantanamo Bay,7 but when those initiatives failed, they attempted to market Two Rivers as a place that specialized in people convicted of sex crimes.8 The emphasis on sex crimes did not work either.

In many ways, Two Rivers Detention Center is a model for how private prisons operate. The Montana legislature voted to allow private prisons in 1996, after a flurry of lobbying by private prison companies.9 Once they won approval, Corrections Corporation of America (now renamed CoreCivic) moved in to acquire funding from the state for construction and start-up. Because private ← 43...

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