Prison Profiteers by Tara Herivel

Prison Profiteers by Tara Herivel

Author:Tara Herivel
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: New Press, The
Published: 2010-09-01T04:00:00+00:00

Growth of the Industry

The first high-security entirely privatized facility under contract to a state was a boys’ detention facility: the Weaversville Intensive Treatment Unit for Juvenile Delinquents, opened in 1976 by RCA Services in Northampton, Pennsylvania.8 The next private facility opened in 1982 in Florida, but privatization didn’t pick up speed until the early 1990s, when the myth of the “superpredator” first appeared and forever altered juvenile justice philosophy.

Within the past fifteen years, a sea change has occurred in juvenile justice philosophy: children once widely viewed as malleable, largely victims of familial instability, and capable of being rehabilitated instead became widely viewed as “superpredators” beginning in the 1980s and 1990s. Thanks to the hysterics whipped up by fear-mongers such as Princeton professor John DiIulio (who infamously forecasted in the 1990s that 270,000 juvenile superpredators would be out on the streets by 2010, a prediction based neither on reason or fact), a hundred years of rehabilitative juvenile justice philosophy was turned on its head.

Overeager legislators jumped on the “superpredator” bandwagon, and an epidemic of new legislation spread across the states. State prosecutors champed at the bit for legislation that would facilitate prosecuting children as adults, and legislators in nearly every state obliged. But the predicted crime wave never came: in fact, by 1997, juvenile crime began a steady decline that hasn’t deviated much since. At present, adolescent crime rates have fallen by 50 percent, a thirty-year low.9 But the laws set in motion across the country nevertheless created a whole new class of child criminals who, once sentenced, would have to be housed in a detention facility somewhere. In anticipation of a “baby boomlet” of child criminals-to-be, the private juvenile detention industry raced to pick up the slack: between 1991 and 1999, the number of children held in private detention facilities grew by 95 percent, with only the most minimal decline since (4 percent).10 Despite an indisputable current decline in crime committed by youth, the private youth detention industry nevertheless managed to carve out its niche based largely upon a phantom child criminal. As in the adult private prison industry, the philosophy of “If we build it, they will come” pervades.


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