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The Overrepresentation of People of Color in Private Prisons Petrella Radical Criminology 2013

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The Color of Corporate Corrections, Part II:
Contractual Exemptions and the
Overrepresentation of People of Color in
Private Prisons
CHRISTOPHER PETRELLA1
My previous study2 published in Radical Criminology, (Issue 2,
Fall 2013) demonstrates that people of color3–though historically overrepresented in public prisons relative to their share of
state and national populations–are further overrepresented in
private prisons contracted by departments of correction in Arizona, California, and Texas.
My current research on the relationship between U.S. racial
formation and prison privatization enlarges my previous work
by foregrounding the question of why. That is, why is it that
1

Christopher Petrella is a doctoral candidate in African American Studies at
U.C. Berkeley. His dissertation is entitled “Race, Markets, and the Rise of the
Private Prison State.” Learn more at www.christopherfrancispetrella.net
2

“The Color of Corporate Corrections.” Radical Criminology (2)
http://journal.radicalcriminology.org/index.php/rc/article/view/27
3

Although racial designations are always imprecise, elusive, historically
situated, and subject to revision, I have appropriated U.S. Census Bureau
racial categories for the purposes of this study to preserve nomenclatural, and
therefore statistical, fidelity in cross referencing figures. People of color here
are defined as “Black, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Native
Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and non-white Hispanic or Latino.”

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people of color are overrepresented in private versus public facilities in select states even in the absence of explicit racially
discriminatory correctional placement or classification policies?
In order to explain why people of color tend to be overrepresented in private relative to public facilities around the country
this study draws on data from nine (9) states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. These states were selected on the basis of their
reliably large sample size. Each of the nine states considered
currently houses at least 3,000 prisoners in private minimum
and/or medium security facilities.4 Additionally, this study controls for differences in facility population profile. Therefore,
only public and private facilities/units with a minimum and/or
medium security designation are included in this comparison.
And finally, as in my previous work, in order to avoid artificially inflating the over-incarceration of people of color in for-profit prisons this examination intentionally excludes figures from
federal detention centers controlled by U.S. Immigration and
Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. Marshals Service, and
detention facilities managed at the local level. For similar reasons, it strategically excludes data from transfer centers, work
release centers, community corrections facilities, and reception
centers.
Based on an analysis of data obtained from over sixty separate public record requests5 and reports accessible on state department of corrections websites, this study finds that people of
color are overrepresented in private minimum and/or medium
security private facilities relative to their public counterparts in
each of the nine (9) states examined.
This research further posits that the overrepresentation of
people of color in private versus public prisons across the country is primarily attributable to an unlikely source: finely tailored
4

Over thirty states in total contract with private prison companies but many of
these jurisdictions have sample sizes that are statistically insignificant.
Alaska, for instance, houses less than 1,000 prisoners in minimum and/or
medium security private facilities.
5

All public record requests were made between May, 2012 and September,
2013.

PETRELLA: COLOR OF CORPORATE CORRECTIONS, PART II 71

contractual provisions that implicitly exempt private prison
companies from housing certain types of individuals whose
health care and staffing costs disproportionately attenuate profit
margins. Health—and therefore age—tends to serve as a proxy
for race without any explicit reference to it.
These figures suggest that the older the prisoner, the more
likely that prisoner is to be “Non-Hispanic, white.” Correspondingly, the younger the prisoner, the more likely that prisoner is
to be a person of color. Most prisoners over 50 today were convicted and sentenced before the operationalization of the socalled “War on Drugs,” a skein of policies that have disproportionately criminalized communities of color. By implication,
the vast majority of those incarcerated prior to 1980—both in
real numbers and on a percentage basis— was “Non-Hispanic,
white.”6 Contrastingly, black individuals constituted 30 percent
of state prisons admits in 1950, 34 percent in 1960, roughly 40
percent in 1970, and 42 percent by 1980.7
Therefore, age and health serve as dual proxies for race
when explaining the persistent racial disparities in private versus public facilities with similar population profiles.
Elderly and/or geriatric prisoners tend to cost more to incarcerate. A 2012 ACLU report estimates that it costs $34,135 per
year to house a non-geriatric prisoner, but it costs $68,270 per
year to house a prisoner age 50 and older.8
My study firmly suggests that private prison management
companies9 responsible for providing health services exempt
themselves contractually from accepting and housing prisoners
with chronic medical conditions as well as those whose health
care costs will be “above average.” 10 This fact results in a prisoner profile that is far younger and far “darker” in minimum
6

For example, an individual convicted in 1970 as a 20 year-old would be 63
today. Research conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice and the ACLU
both conclude that prisoners over the age of 50 are most likely to be “nonHispanic, white.” https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/125618.pdf
7

Ibid.

8

https://www.aclu.org/files/assets/elderlyprisonreport_20120613_1.pdf

9

Corrections Corporation of America, the GEO Group, and MTC are the
three largest private prison companies in the United States. Together they
constitute close to 90 percent of the private corrections market share.

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and/or medium security private facilities than in select counterpart public facilities. In fact, the states in which the private versus public racial disparities are most pronounced also happen to
by the states in which the private versus public age disparities
are most salient. Please see data on Oklahoma and Texas.
Secondly, on the rare occasion that a state department of
correction retains control of health services while contracting
10

Please consider these examples of contractual exemptions. Note
California: “In the event that the CDCR requests that the contractor
[Corrections Corporation of America] accept offenders with serious or
significant mental health or serious or significant physical problems, included
but not limited to physical disability, CDCR and the contractor shall mutually
agree to an appropriate plan of care and the population and the allocation of
costs associated therewith. If the overall percentage of offenders requiring
Hepatitis C treatment exceeds the overall percentage of offenders requiring
Hepatitis C treatment in the CDCR system, CDCR agrees to pay the treatment
costs for those offenders in excess of the percentage of offenders requiring
Hepatitis C treatment in the CDCR system…The cost of providing on-site
medical, mental health or dental services through facility staff or contracted
services shall be considered normal costs incidental to the operation of the
facility and is included in the CDCR offender per diem rates, except that the
CDCR shall pay for…all expenses in excess of $2,500 annually per inmate
for medically necessary, off site hospital or emergency care…all HIV or
AIDS related inpatient and outpatient medical costs and the costs of providing
AZT or other medications therapeutically indicated and medically necessary
for the treatment of offenders with HIV or AIDS.” Note Oklahoma: “The
contractor [The GEO Group] will be responsible for the treatment of
offenders infected with HIV. This will include, but will not be limited to, all
in-patient and outpatient medical costs excluding the cost of providing
antiviral medications therapeutically indicated for the treatment of HIV. If the
number of the HIV positive offender population being treated increases by 10
offenders then the medication cost allocation shall be subject to negotiation.
The contractor may return any offender diagnosed with AIDS, as defined the
center for disease control to the state. The contractor is responsible for
treatment of Hepatitis C offenders in accordance with the Oklahoma DOC
protocol. If the number of Hepatitis C positive offender population being
treated at any one time is more than two (2) then the DOC will transfer those
additional offenders out of the facility. When an offender reaches end stage
Hepatitis C and can no longer be treated at the contractor’s facility, the DOC
will transfer the offender out of the facility…The contractor may claim
reimbursement from the department for the inpatient hospitalization in a
licensed hospital, for the hospital charges only, not separate physician or other
provider charges, for the amount which exceeds 50,000 per inpatient hospital
discharge for each single hospital stay which originates while the contract for
services is in effect between the contractor and the department.” Note
Mississippi: “MTC [Management and Training Company] will not be

PETRELLA: COLOR OF CORPORATE CORRECTIONS, PART II 73

with a private prison management company 11 elderly populations still remain disproportionately expensive to incarcerate
because those assigned to monitor geriatric and/or chronically
ill prisoners often require special training, benefit from a higher
pay grades, and are assigned at lower staff-to-prisoner ratios.
Each of these considerations further erodes profit margins.
In sum, explicit contractual exemptions for health services
and implicit provisions for reducing “high cost” geriatric or infirmed prisoners helps to explain ongoing racial disparities in
private versus public prisons with similar population profiles.
My modest hope is that this study provides an incontrovertible
example of the ways in which seemingly “race neutral” or “colorblind” carceral policies continue to have a differential impact
on communities of color.12
responsible or liable for providing counseling and/or mental health programs.
MTC will not be responsible or liable for providing medical, mental health,
optometry, pharmaceutical, dental, or similar services. MDOC shall provide
security and control of inmates for outpatient needs and /or hospitalization.”
Note Arizona: According to a 2011 report issued by the Arizona Department
of Corrections “Both private and state-run prison units have differences in the
types of inmates that can be housed based on inmate medical, mental health
and dental needs Generally, state-run prisons house a higher percentage of
inmates with higher medical and mental health needs than private prison
units. Private prison units considered to be corridor facilities have access to
off-site healthcare and can house inmates with more severe medical and
mental health needs. Additionally, two private contracts have a $10,000 cap
per inmate on health care services. When the health care cost of a single
inmate exceeds this cap, the inmate is returned to a state-run prison unit and
the state assumes all further medical treatment costs associated with the
inmate. The consolidation of inmates with higher medical and mental health
needs to certain units is cost-efficient overall, but results in a higher per diem
cost for those units and complexes that house these inmates.”
http://www.azcorrections.gov/ARS41_
1609_01_Biennial_Comparison_Report122111_e_v.pdf
11

In Texas, for instance, medical care in private prisons is provided by
Correctional Managed Health Care, a public agency.
12

The overrepresentation of people of color in private prisons indicates they
are disproportionately siphoned away from public prisons—precisely the
types of facilities that provide the greatest access to educational and
rehabilitative programs and services. http://www.urban.org/projects/reentryroundtable/upload/Crayton.pdf. People of color continue to be seen in the
national imagination as sources of profit extraction and not necessarily as
citizens deserving of public services.

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DATA:
ARIZONA: PUBLIC MINIMUM/MEDIUM SECURITY FACILITIES OR
UNITS (PEOPLE OF COLOR / TOTAL POPULATION)
Douglas-Gila: 359/601
Douglas-Mohave: 663/930
Douglas-Eggers: 127/231
Florence-East: 397/690
Florence-North: 604/1085
Florence-Globe: 164/293
Lewis-Stiner: 786/1176
Lewis-Sunrise: 42/99
Safford-Fort Grant: 331/573
Safford-Graham: 349/536
Safford-Tonto: 194/306
Tucson-Cimarron: 246/371
Tucson-Santa Rita: 503/777
Tucson-Winchester: 501/769
Tucson-Catalina: 144/348
Tucson-Whetstone: 685:1171
Winslow-Coronado: 318/498
Winslow-Kaibab: 614/775
Winslow-Apache: 212/358
Yuma-Cheyenne: 734/1188
Yuma-Cocopah: 570/1047
Yuma-Cibola: 152/308
Yuma-La Paz: 661/864

PETRELLA: COLOR OF CORPORATE CORRECTIONS, PART II 75

ARIZONA: PRIVATE MINIMUM/MEDIUM SECURITY FACILITIES
OR UNITS (PEOPLE OF COLOR / TOTAL POPULATION)
Kingman-Cerbat: 1193/1965
Kingman-Hualapal: 1069/1512
Marana: 309/496

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CALIFORNIA: PUBLIC MINIMUM/MEDIUM SECURITY FACILITIES
OR UNITS (PEOPLE OF COLOR / TOTAL POPULATION)
Avenal: 4447/6217
California Men's Colony: 4719/6240
California Men's Rehabilitation Center: 3156/4263
Chuckawalla / Ironwood: 6221/7634
Folsom: 5360/6676

*Note: Though the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has been incredibly uncooperative in releasing data
pertaining to the proportion of prisoners age 50 and older in minimum/medium-security public and private facilities, readers should
note that the publicly-operated California Health Care facility in
Stockton, CA is the only facility officially charged with the task of
“housing for patients who require acute and long-term care for
medical or psychiatric needs.” It is therefore reasonable to hypothesize that this particular publicly-operated facility would contain
the highest proportion of prisoners age 50 and older among California's more than 30 state-operated prisons. http://cdcrtoday.blogspot.com/2013/06/cdcr-dedicates-new-californiahealth.html

PETRELLA: COLOR OF CORPORATE CORRECTIONS, PART II 77

CALIFORNIA: PRIVATE (OUTSOURCED) MINIMUM/MEDIUM
SECURITY FACILITIES OR UNITS (PEOPLE OF COLOR / TOTAL
POPULATION)
La Palma (in Arizona): 2454/2949
North Fork (in Oklahoma): 1774/2003
Red Rock (in Arizona): 1382/1504
Tallahatchie (in Mississippi): 2410/2603

COLORADO: PUBLIC MINIMUM/MEDIUM SECURITY FACILITIES
OR UNITS (PEOPLE OF COLOR / TOTAL POPULATION)
Arkansas Valley: 575/1008
Buena Vista: 546/926
Fremont: 798/1662

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COLORADO: PRIVATE MINIMUM/MEDIUM SECURITY FACILITIES
OR UNITS (PEOPLE OF COLOR / TOTAL POPULATION)
Bent: 764/1317
Crowley: 938/1590
Kit Carson: 456/800

PETRELLA: COLOR OF CORPORATE CORRECTIONS, PART II 79

GEORGIA: PUBLIC MINIMUM/MEDIUM SECURITY FACILITIES OR
UNITS (PEOPLE OF COLOR / TOTAL POPULATION)
Autry: 1155/1644
Calhoun: 1169/1635
Central: 614/1099
Dodge: 796/1198
Dooly: 1093/1652
Johnson State: 855/1544
Lee State: 523/725
Long: 100/224
Montgomery: 236/374

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GEORGIA: PRIVATE MINIMUM/MEDIUM SECURITY FACILITIES
OR UNITS (PEOPLE OF COLOR / TOTAL POPULATION)
Coffee: 1811/2540
Jenkins: 665/1107
Riverbend: 1012/1459
Wheeler: 1817/2640

PETRELLA: COLOR OF CORPORATE CORRECTIONS, PART II 81

MISSISSIPPI: PUBLIC MINIMUM/MEDIUM SECURITY FACILITIES
OR UNITS (PEOPLE OF COLOR / TOTAL POPULATION)*
CMCF: 1451/2188

MISSISSIPPI: PRIVATE MEDIUM SECURITY FACILITIES (PEOPLE
OF COLOR / TOTAL POPULATION)*
as Composite Totals: 3256/4314

*Note: Though the Mississippi Department of Corrections has
not been able to provide me with data pertaining to the
proportion of prisoners age 50 and older in minimum/mediumsecurity public and private facilities, readers should note that
the publicly-operated Mississippi State Penitentiary in
Parchman, MS is the only facility responsible for
“maintain[ing] two special units for its elderly prisoners.”—
http://www.mdoc.state.ms.us

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OHIO: PUBLIC MINIMUM/MEDIUM SECURITY FACILITIES OR
UNITS (PEOPLE OF COLOR / TOTAL POPULATION)
Allen Oakwood: 659/1590
Marion: 1343/2617
Dayton: 315/882
Chillicothe: 1038/2747
London: 1119/2263
Belmont: 1220/2762
Noble: 1034/2495
Southeastern: 853/2055
Pickaway: 919/2165

PETRELLA: COLOR OF CORPORATE CORRECTIONS, PART II 83

OHIO: PRIVATE MINIMUM/MEDIUM SECURITY FACILITIES OR
UNITS (PEOPLE OF COLOR / TOTAL POPULATION)
Lake Erie: 898/1542
North Central Complex: 1113/2708

OKLAHOMA: PUBLIC MINIMUM/MEDIUM SECURITY FACILITIES
OR UNITS (PEOPLE OF COLOR / TOTAL POPULATION)
Dick Conner: 608/1202
James Crabtree: 387/992
Joseph Harp: 555/1396
Mack Alford: 349/793
OK State Reformatory: 483/1067

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OKLAHOMA: PRIVATE MINIMUM/MEDIUM SECURITY FACILITIES
OR UNITS (PEOPLE OF COLOR / TOTAL POPULATION)
Davis: 989/1682
Lawton: 1423/2529

PETRELLA: COLOR OF CORPORATE CORRECTIONS, PART II 85

TENNESSEE: PUBLIC MINIMUM/MEDIUM SECURITY FACILITIES
OR UNITS (PEOPLE OF COLOR / TOTAL POPULATION)
CBCX: 315/604
NWCX: 1315/2404

TENNESSEE: PRIVATE MINIMUM/MEDIUM SECURITY FACILITIES
OR UNITS (PEOPLE OF COLOR / TOTAL POPULATION)
Hardeman: 1265/1998
South Central: 765: 1669
Whiteville: 974/1528

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* Note: Though the Tennessee Department of Correction has
stated it “does not have the resources to perform individual requests to disaggregate data [pertaining to the proportion of prisoners age 50 and older in minimum/medium-security public
and private facilities],” readers should note that the publicly-operated Lois M. DeBerry Special Needs Facility in Nashville,
TN is the only facility responsible for providing “acute and
convalescent health care” to Tennessee prisoners. It is therefore reasonable to hypothesize that this particular publicly-operated facility would contain the largest proportion of prisoners
age 50 and older among all of Tennessee's prisons.
—http://www.tn.gov/correction/institutions/dsnf.html

TEXAS: PUBLIC MINIMUM/MEDIUM SECURITY FACILITIES OR
UNITS (PEOPLE OF COLOR / TOTAL POPULATION)
Byrd: 723/1088
Goree: 483/975
Huntsville: 874/1520
Jester III: 629/1083
Luther: 795/1261
Pack: 763/1429
Powledge: 504/1105
Terrell: 940/1539
Vance: 192/295

PETRELLA: COLOR OF CORPORATE CORRECTIONS, PART II 87

TEXAS: PRIVATE MINIMUM/MEDIUM SECURITY FACILITIES OR
UNITS (PEOPLE OF COLOR / TOTAL POPULATION)
Billy Moore: 344/499
Bridgeport: 360/520
Cleveland: 361/519
Diboll: 354/517
Estes: 722/1039

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