I recently had the opportunity to tour a private prison facility. While lacking in experience in the criminal justice field, I jumped at the opportunity to see a prison, something which is very important to a functioning society. And not just a state-run prison, which most people accept as a non-controversial system, I was able to tour a privately-run facility, the concept of which has both ardent supporters and disgusted opponents.
Personally, before this opportunity arose, I did not even know that private prisons existed. But in doing my due diligence, researching private prisons prior to the trip, I was struck with the fact that there was not a single positive article or oped on the subject. Every article I found had nothing good to say on the subject. No wonder private prisons wanted people to see their facilities for themselves instead of simply reading online.
The day of the tour, our group set out in a shuttle from Tallahassee to drive an hour and a half to Graceville Correctional and Once the presentation was over, we began the tour by visiting some classes going on in the facility. These ranged from a GED course to a university program to a parenting course. On the day of our visit, it was the first day of the university program at the facility. The inmates in the Rehabilitation Facility, a maximum security male prison. Graceville is run by the GEO Group and they call their prisons rehabilitation facilities because they’re focused on the rehabilitation aspect through the various programs that they offer to the inmates.
When we arrived, we went through a security process, with a metal detector so strong that even my simple necklace set it off. This was followed by a presentation from GEO that highlighted the different programs that they run for the inmates, particularly their Continuum of Care, which they explained as a support program to inmates as they are released to make sure they are both prepared once they reenter society and are given some support as they adjust back to society.
Once the presentation was over, we began the tour by visiting some classes going on in the facility. These ranged from a GED course to a university program to a parenting course. On the day of our visit, it was the first day of the university program at the facility. The inmates in the course were enthusiastic about the opportunity to earn a college degree during their incarceration.
We were able to talk freely with the inmates and while some complained that the facility was far from family, they said that it was better than other state-run facilities that they had been in. These same inmates said that they had worked to come to the facility, despite the distance from their family, because it was worth it to improve their lives and prospects once they got out.
Throughout the tour, we were given close access to the inmates who seemed to be freely speaking their minds. Many of them were very happy to be at Graceville and were proud of the progress that they were making through the programming. I observed that the relationship between the staff and the inmates seemed cordial, despite the stories that one will read if searching online. There seemed to be a mutual respect, and the staff, many of whom had worked for many years in state or federal facilities prior to coming to Graceville, spoke of how much better it was to work at their present facility, particularly because of the culture which was focused on and developed by the staff and the GEO Group as a whole.
While private prisons are often criticized for being understaffed, cutting corners on food, health and safety to make money and more, I did not see any evidence of that at Graceville. Not only did the inmates seem happy and grateful to be at the facility (as opposed to another), the staff at Graceville seemed proud of the facility that they ran. They were passionate about the programs, particularly the rehabilitation focus at the facility, and how they could help the inmates be productive members of society upon their release.
Some, even after reading such a positive account may say that it is wrong to profit off of the incarcerated. I asked one of the GEO workers about that and he responded that from the company’s perspective, they were simply providing a service to the state and to the inmates. It was a necessary service and if they could do a better job than the state, both saving the state money and running better facilities, then they were fulfilling their object.
Many may continue to argue against private prisons, but on my tour, I saw a facility that was clean and kept in good condition, that was holding the programs it said it would, and that was even monitored by a state-appointed inspector to ensure that it met all the requirements of its contract.
Now I may not yet be an ardent supporter of all private prisons but I had a very positive and enlightening experience at Graceville. It’s certainly nothing new that you shouldn’t believe everything you read online but if private prisons can provide more and better-quality programs to inmates in prison facilities, supporting them should be a focus and priority for all Americans. Prisons were built to rehabilitate criminals and they can only do that if they provide the necessary education and programs to the inmates.