A person involved in the criminal justice system usually has one huge concern hanging over their head – prison. Just about any conviction for a federal or state felony comes with the possibility of incarceration. While it is possible to avoid time behind bars, there is a lot of pressure for the courts to "punish" people convicted of crimes.
One thing that is coming into the spotlight more each day is how a private prison system is negatively impacting the criminal justice system. The for-profit companies are paid based on a per-inmate basis, so the more people they can have in a facility, the more money the company makes.
A shocking realization
The private prison industry is booming. In an effort to maintain income and profitability, the contracts they have entered into with government entities include a minimum occupancy requirement. This forces the criminal justice system to issue prison sentences just to meet those requirements. If the minimum isn't met, the government will still have to pay the equivalent of that minimum. This is a total waste of money, so there is a need to have inmates in place. In theory, it might be a more feasible option to explore more efficient uses of taxpayer dollars through programs that focus more on rehabilitation instead of just housing people in a restrictive environment.
Lobbying isn't helping matters
Lobbyists for these huge corporations have become more vocal about changing laws that would impact the number of people flowing through the prison system. For defendants, things like mandatory minimum sentences for drug charges and other similar factors can mean they face a lengthy incarceration that might be longer than what someone serves for a violent crime. The bottom line is that the penalties people face should be appropriate for the crime, even if this means that the laws are changed to institute shorter sentences.
Defendants still have rights and options
People facing criminal charges need to learn about the penalties. This information should have a direct impact on how they handle the defense strategy. Even with large companies lobbying to keep harsh sentencing requirements and the possibility of minimum prisoner clauses in for-profit prison contracts, the system must continue to respect the rights of all defendants. This includes being able to present a defense against the prosecutor's claims and not having to deal with a punishment that would be cruel or unusual.