The Troubling History Of America’s Private Prisons

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In a 2018 article, Time magazine quoted one Louisiana prisoner from the institution when McHatton, Pratt, and Ward took over. He said that the prison authorities “laid aside all objects of reformation and re-instated the most cruel tyranny, to eke out the dollar and cents of human misery.” Hardly a ringing endorsement of prison privatization.

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And that prisoner was scarcely exaggerating with the phrase “cruel tyranny” when it came to privatized prisons in the 19th century. Cruel and unusual punishment seems to have been the order of the day. Torture was common. Private prison owners were apparently happy to use brutality in the pursuit of profits.

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One favored punishment was known as “watering”. This involved restraining the prisoner and inserting a funnel into his mouth. Staff then poured water down the tube until the prisoner’s gut swelled up. This put stress on the heart, making the unfortunate victim feel that death was near.

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