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Thanks to 'Lockup Quotas' That School-to-Prison Pipeline Is Probably Here to Stay

Liz Dwyer

Despite the outcry against the practice of pushing low income children of color out of school and into the criminal justice system, the school-to-prison pipeline may be here to stay. A new report reveals that for-profit prison companies have quotas in their contracts, requiring states to guarantee that prisons will be 80-100 percent full. If the prison population drops, the state has to pay the companies millions for the empty cells. That means the state has an incentive to incarcerate.

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  • Alessandra Rizzotti

    Or they could use the cells in other ways? Weird suggestion, but if unoccupied space is the problem, use it for other things like sheltering pets that need better training (prisoners could be trainers so the dogs become more adoptable). I thought keeping people incarcerated actually cost more? At least that was my understanding after supporting Proposition 34 in CA. Forgive me if I'm not as informed as I should be.

    • Liz Dwyer

      And if you think about it, one of the tools politicians frequently use to boost their election/reelection chances is a "tough on crime" approach. If the public finds out that the state is paying for empty space, well, all those politicians who signed the contract get voted out of office. It sounds SO much better to say you're protecting the public from criminals through policies that enforce "zero tolerance" and maximum sentencing for minor crimes.

    • Liz Dwyer

      It's not so much a matter of unoccupied space as it is a matter of a for profit company wanting their money. And they have it in their contracts that they're going to get it from these states one way or another. So if social supports and education do their job and crime rates drop, it doesn't matter, the state still has to pay the prison the cash.

      • Alessandra Rizzotti

        ergh. That's so weird and makes me wonder about for-profit schools, as well as for-profit mental institutions. Does it work the same way? I feel dumb asking, but why do states have to pay? Shouldn't for-profit institutions be taxed?

        • Liz Dwyer

          There are many many similar problems with for profit schools and mental hospitals. But if the state signs a contract saying they'll pay AND exempting the prison from taxes...what can you do. Not to mention, there are frequently conflicts of interests/ethics violations when these deals are struck. That's why folks always say "follow the money."