Prison Privatization and Youth of Color: What Are The Implications?

~ This is the second post of a three-part blog series on the criminalization of people of color and the private prison industry by students at Occidental College.

Society’s View on Privatizing Juvenile Facilities

Whether the industry explicitly says it benefits from the school-to-prison pipeline or not, its recent development of juvenile facilities speaks to its motives. By creating juvenile facilities, the industry has a wide range of ages to fill their facilities. Many do not recognize the implications of privatizing juvenile facilities, mainly because mainstream media does not provide viewers with this information. In the “Kids for Cash” scandal, the media hardly addressed the thousands of lives destroyed by privatization; instead, it focused on the judges’ actions and their impending prison sentences. In addition, it did not at all address the owners of the private juvenile facilities who initially bribed the judges. Not surprisingly, the facilities involved are still fully operating.

Alcatraz
Creative Commons License photo credit: Gaffke Photography v2.8

Society’s View of Youth of Color and their Respective Marginalization

When pushing children into the school-to-prison pipeline, many are aware of the pipeline’s racial disparities, yet are oblivious to the damaging effects it has on youth and their families. Many do not recognize that these children are reacting to the “shame” they feel from being labeled as “criminal.” Instead, people view these youth as “criminals” and endorse their harsh punishment. The private prison industry uses this knowledge to its advantage, realizing that youth are vulnerable and do not have the power to voice their disadvantage.

The William Porter Reformatory
Creative Commons License photo credit: mallix

In his book, Youth in a Suspect Society, Henry Giroux states:

The disparaging view of young people has promulgated the rise of a punishing and (in) security industry whose discourses, technologies, and practices have become visible across a wide range of spaces and institutions (p. 73).

This view of young people is reflected in both the motives and the actions of the private prison industry. As exemplified in the “Kids for Cash” scandal, children are being seen as commodities. And these actions are being justified by a society who is exposed to racialized and criminalized images of minority youth presented by the media, making some fear these youth, believing their “misbehavior” is dangerous and that harsh “punishment” is the only solution. This fear is thus reflected in laws intended to marginalize youth of color. Rios explains that these children are being “systematically denied” their “positive rite,” which is defined as the “universal human need to be perceived by others in a positive light, with consideration instead of degradation” (p. 58). Although it may be difficult for youth to achieve this recognition in today’s racialized social system, reflecting on the connection between the school-to-prison pipeline and private juvenile facilities should make people question the knowledge and motives of the corporations behind their construction.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is the private prison industry capitalizing on society’s “fear” of minority youth? In other words, how does the media’s presentation of racialized images directly benefit the private prison industry?
  2. What would the prison system look like if these youth were granted their “positive rite?” How can you help them achieve this consideration?

~ *We are a group of four sociology students studying critical theories of race and racism in Danielle Dirks’ “Contemporary Sociological Theory” undergraduate course at Occidental College. Please read and feel free to comment or ask questions. Thank you for your time!