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Corrections Privatization

A disturbing trend we have seen has been the push to privatize government jobs, cheap specifically in the corrections sector.

Here are some stark facts regarding prison privatization:

Private Prisons Don’t Save Money

  • Advocates of prison privatization claim that for-profit firms can operate prisons less expensively than the government can. In reality, the promise of savings (in the range of 15 to 20 percent) turns out to be a big exaggeration. Numerous studies show little or no difference in costs associated with public and for-profit correction facilities.
  • A 1998 study conducted by the United States Attorney General at the request of Congress (Abt Associates Inc. Private Prisons in the United States: An Assessment of Current Practice, July 16, 1998) found that there was no strong evidence to support claims that privately run facilities were more cost effective.
  • Despite this evidence, supporters of prison privatization persist in claiming that private prisons are cheaper than public prisons. These claims tend to be flawed for a number of reasons. First and foremost, they tend to compare “apples to oranges.” For instance, government costs are averages that include maximum-and medium-security inmates while only 2 percent of the inmate population in for-profit prisons are maximum-security inmates.
  • Another flaw in most cost comparisons is the omission of the “hidden” costs associated with for-profit prisons. One such major hidden cost is the expense needed to capture escapees.
  • Costs associated with the procurement process and indirect costs (such as legal work and administrative costs, including contract monitoring and other overhead costs) must be considered. These costs can range between 10 percent and 20 percent of contract costs.
  • For-profit prison firms get plum contracts that wind up costing taxpayers more. Low bids by companies are tempting, but they leave governments to pick up the tab for unanticipated expenses and/or for costly mistakes.

Private Prisons are Bad Public Policy and Raise Quality Concerns

  • For-profit firms can increase their profits by providing less programming than they are obligated to provide and by holding inmates longer than they should. A newspaper reported that some CCA guards in Tennessee say privately that they are encouraged to write up prisoners for minor infractions and place them in segregation. If a prisoner has another 30 days added to their sentence for an infraction, companies receive a bonus of nearly $1,000 at some prisons. (The Nation, January 5, 1998)
  • For-profit prison firms too often get out of paying property and income taxes — taxes that should go toward improving the lives of citizens.
  • The pursuit of profits jeopardizes public safety. Cost-cutting leads to dangerous conditions both within the walls of prisons and in the nearby community. Prisons must be staffed by professional corrections personnel who are dedicated to preserving public safety, not by corporate bigwigs who are beholden to their stockholders.

Private Prisons are Bad for the Local Economy and are Bad for Employees

  • For-profit prisons offer low wages and inadequate benefits to employees. In for-profit prisons, the high salaries for corporate executives and returns to shareholders are paid for in part by low pay and benefits for prison employees, who put their lives on the line every day.
  • This leads to constant employee turnover, which means understaffed prisons with untrained employees.
  • For-profit prison companies further reduce their labor costs by giving employees stock instead of a real pension. These retirement benefits could be wiped out in the blink of an eye.

Private Prisons Endanger the Community

  • The high turnover, poor training, and under-staffing common in for-profit prisons are a recipe for disaster in corrections.
  • According to a study by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, for-profit prisons have lower staffing, lower salaries and a higher rate of assaults on staff and inmates than public facilities. (Tulsa World, December 13, 1999)
  • The low wages and benefits paid by for-profit corrections firms can attract workers not qualified to work in a public correctional setting. For instance, published reports revealed that Cornell Corrections knowingly hired convicted felons to work as guards inside Santa Fe County’s juvenile jail. (Associated Press, April 27, 1999)
  • High employee turnover also leads to a poorly trained staff because of the need to expeditiously fill empty positions. The danger of having improperly trained employees came to light when a prison guard was killed at a Wackenhut-run facility in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. It was discovered that the guard was not certified to work in an armed post as a corrections officer. Neither were five of his co-workers. (Associated Press, September 8, 1999)

The Public is Against Prison Privatization

A national survey by Lake, Snell, Perry and Associates of Washington D.C., 1999, shows that 58% of the public opposes private prisons. The same survey found that voters believe that government-run prisons do a better job of rehabilitating prisoners, are more accountable and protect public safety more effectively. By a strong margin, the public believes that for-profit prisons cut corners.

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