The Prison Industry under Trump

The presidential victory of Donald Trump came as a surprise to some, including the investors behind the nation's largest private prison firms. In the days following the DOJ's announcement in August that it would move away from private prisons in the federal system, these firms -- GEO Group and CoreCivic Co. (fka CCA) -- saw a dramatic dip in stock performance. They suffered from Hillary Clinton's (eventual) pledge of support for deprivatization as well. Soon after Trump's victory earlier this month, however, they jumped back up. Unlike Clinton, Trump pledged support (directly and indirectly) for the privatization of punishment. The renewed growth in the industry, then, is no surprise.

This trend is expected to continue. For starters, the DOJ initiative is limited in its scope. Of special note is the fact that it does not apply to ICE -- Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- detention centers. These facilities, which house tens of thousands of individuals arrested for immigration violations and awaiting deportation, are thoroughly privatized. In fact, more than 70% of ICE prisoners are housed in privately managed detention centers. Trump's 100 day plan includes stricter immigration enforcement, as well as the establishment of a two-year mandatory minimum sentence for violators. This means more arrests and longer stays.

Beyond immigration policy, other Trump campaign positions foreshadow a rise in prison privatization. His self-framing as the "law and order candidate" suggests harsher enforcement across the board. He also regularly supported public-private partnerships in general, and specifically called for "a lot of privatizations and private prisons" in an MSNBC interview. Unlike the DOJ, which reported (based on research) that privately managed prisons are generally less safe, less secure, and less rehabilitative than public facilities, Trump said of private prisons: "It seems to work a lot better."

One aspect of all of this that Trump hasn't commented on (to my knowledge) is the use of prison labor. Given that penal labor arrangements typically revolve around public-private partnerships and the reduction of institutional operations costs, it seems likely that Trump would/will support the continued use of prisoner labor, if not its expansion. The American Correctional Association, it should be noted, recently recommended that the first clause of the 13th Amendment be changed to no longer allow for the forced labor of inmates, concluding that the exclusion clause of this amendment is "inconsistent with its basic founding principles and standards." His past statements and practices suggest that Trump will be unmoved by this recommendation.

It seems that the election of Donald Trump will serve to strengthen and expand the private prison industry. OR, maybe Trump will flip-flop on yet another issue and decide to side with the research and experts on the issue of prison privatization... (But I wouldn't get my hopes up.)