This started as a somewhat lighthearted look at "self-pay jails", the California phenomena where the rich and famous can pay for nice accommodations in privately run jails. Researching that led me to the far sleazier world of corprate-run prisons.
Private for-profit prisons are a growth industry in the United States. Cornell Companies holds more than 18,000 people captive. The largest private prison business is Corrections Corporation of America which holds 70,000 Americans in captivity. Corrections Corporation of America made $1.37 billion in revenue last year.
To feed this profit machine a greater and greater number of humans have to be fed into the system. In 1972, the United States held about 300,000 of its citizens prisoner for crimes. In 1983, Corrections Corp. started doing business. By 1992, the number of Americans held in the nation's jails and prisons had quadrupled to 1.2 million. Last year, 2006, the prison population of the United States had grown to 2.2 million Americans with an additional 5 million Americans on probation or parole. No nation on Earth holds as many of its citizens in prison (second place is China with 1.5 million inmates). Twenty-five percent of all the inmates held in all the jails and prisons everywhere in the world are imprisoned by the United States of America.
These private prisons operate a system of legal, modern slavery. One of the sources of income for these companies is prison labor, paying their workers/prisoners as little as 5 cents an hour. Honda pays prisoner labor $2 an hour to do the work freemen would be paid $30 an hour for. Konica pays 50 cents an hour for prison workers. (source) Prison labor is officially "voluntary," however if a prisoner refuses to work he can be punished with additional prison time (losing "good behavior" points) and the lose of library and recreation privileges.
see also: Not With Our Money, an organization fighting the prison-for-profit movement; Simply Appalling; Disinformation; Prison Labor by Reese Erlich; Profits of Crime; South Texans Opposed to Private Prisons
I guess I have to thank Paris Hilton. Without her I would never have discovered the concept of the "self-pay jail."
Here in California, there is a separate, private jail system for the elite. For $100 a day, the wealthy and connected can get a nice jail cell with no bars run by Cornell Companies. The jailers politely call them "clients" instead of prisoners (I don't know if the jailers are called "concierges."). An evenings-only service (called "work release") is also available for a fee of $70. With this service, the clients need only spend their evenings in the "jail." They are released during the day to go to work or, in at least one case as reported by the Orange County Register, go home and engage in a little recreational homicide. Cornell Companies will point out that all the services they provide their clients must be approved by a judge.