Higher Profits Explain Why There Are More People of Color in Private Prisons

By Joshua Holland

CelaIt’s well known that people of color are overrepresented in America’s prisons relative to their share of the population. But a recent study finds that they make up an even larger share of the populations of private, for-profit prisons than publicly run institutions.

According to Christopher Petrella, a doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley who conducted the study, this is not an accident — it’s about private firms selecting the least expensive prisoners to manage and leaving costlier populations in the hands of state correction systems.

Why would African American and Latino prisoners be cheaper to incarcerate than whites? Because older prisoners are significantly more expensive than younger ones. “Based on historical sentencing patterns, if you are a prisoner today, and you are over 50 years old, there is a greater likelihood that you are white,” Petrella explained to BillMoyers.com. “If you are under 50 years old — particularly if you’re closer to 30 years old — you’re more likely to be a person of color.” He cited a 2012 report by the ACLU which found that it costs $34,135 per year to house a non-geriatric prisoner, compared with $68,270 for a prisoner age 50 or older.

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