Prisons are places where people are physically confined after they have been charged with criminal cases.The prisons acts as correctional facilities and rehabilitation centers where people charged with criminal activities are subjected for behavior changes. Over the years, the government has controlled, managed, and administered the activities and operations of the prisons.On the other hand, private prisons refer to the situation where private individuals or “for-profit” organizations manage these correctional facilities. Privatization of prisons can be dated back to the 19th century in the American Revolution due to the finish of the civil war. However, the actual development of private prisons was well established in the early 1980s when the United States government contracted the Corrections Corporation of America to control the Hamilton county facility in Tennessee (Maahs 358). Prison privatization spread to European and Australian continents in the early 1990s, resulting in popularization of “for-profit” corporations (Maahs 358). The rise of prisons managed by the private sector has raised heated debate on whether the correctional facilities should be privatized or the government should solely manage them.
The U.S. Department of Justice statistics indicated that there were 133,000 prisoners housed privately, contributing to 8.4% of the total U.S prison population in 2013. Many scholars have researched on the topic to try to get an insight regarding the issue of prison privatization. They have argued whether the private “for-cost” organizations should be allowed to operate correctional facilities in the United States. Therefore, this paper clearly states that the public sector should be deprived the opportunities of running the prisons in the American soil. The paper takes a theoretical approach to evaluate the pros and cons of privatizing prisons to support its argument that the private sector should not be allowed to run the prisons. This topic is in line with the criminal justice system because prison facilities are fundamental part of the justice systems. Criminals are confined in these centers and their management is crucial in realizing justice to both the criminal and the society.
The negative effects of private prisons
As mentioned earlier, prison privation is an aspect that started in the late 20th century with the aim of relinquishing justice in the most effective way. With over two decades in operation, prison privatization has elicited some benefits and disadvantages that are worth learning from. First, various people have argued that “for-cost” operations are cost saving in running the prisons. The proponents of privately managed prisons argue that it would enhance cost efficiency operations over public prisons. However, this argument is a theoretical contention that lacks empirical evidence to substantiate. This is because a report conducted by the U.S Bureau of Justice Statics in 2007 indicated that private prisons had failed in materializing the promise of a cost effective prisons. The American Civil Liberties Union released a report on 2011 that recommended the use of public prisons because private prisons were less accountable, more costly, violent, and contributed to increased mass incarceration (Schmalleger 24). These “for-profit” organizations acquire contracts from the government to handle inmates. The government has to pay them to hold these inmates in their prisons; hence, there is no aspect of saving costs. According to the study by the Arizona Public Facilities in 2005, privately run prisons declined to accept inmates that are expensive to accommodate. Similarly, these companies want to make profit; hence, the argument that they are cost-effective is baseless and untrue.
Prisons should not be managed privately because the main aim of the “for-cost” corporations is to make profit. As a result, this will open loopholes for corruption because the organizations need prisoners to operate. For example, Mid-Atlantic Youth Service Corp is a private juvenile center that was found guilty of bribing two judges to send 2000 children to the facility. Such incidences are motivated by the greed for money because the more they accommodate prisoners, the much they earn. As a result, these private facilities are tempted to corrupt the judicial systems to reap profits. Still on the aspect of corruption, privately run prisons lures political influence due to the profit they make. According to Kevin, the Corrections Corporations of America (CCA) has made super normal revenues that amount to 500% in the past decade (27). In 2012, CCA wanted to buy and operate their state-funded prisons, and they wanted a constitutional amendment that could allow the state to keep private prisons 90% full (Matt 217). To win these cases, the “for-cost” corporations are alleged to bribe the legislators so that they can favor them. The occupancy requirement was controversial because the state is expected to keep the private prisons 90% full even when the crime rate has fallen. Therefore, the privatization of prison administration will open opportunities for corrupt members to operate fraudulent deals.
Managing prisons requires highly trained personnel hat has the requisite knowledge and skills of handling inmates. The government ensures there is a proper program that trains the prison wardens to handle any cases of prisoners from the high-rated criminals to the less-violent ones. The situation is not the same in private prisons where the staff are skimpily trained and exposed to the professional field of handling inmates. Low training translates to lower skills, salaries and wages, and benefits. When these factors are combined in regards to staff training, private prisons are chaotic in terms of management. Staff training is fundamental in handling cases of violence and breakout incidences. Kevin states that low staff training in prisons led to the increased cases of jail violence where guards and fellow inmates were assaulted (13). For instance, a study by the United States Department of Justice: Prisoners in 2013 found out that the assaults on guards was 49% more frequent in “for-cost” operated prisons as compared to public prisons (Matt 214). The same study indicated that prisoners in private organizations were 65% likely to be assaulted as compared to government-run prisons.
The study also found that these cases were as a result of under-staffing as the ratio for staff to prisoners was 1:120. It is a devastating state where one staff will have to manage over one hundred criminals whose moral aspects are in question. Since these “for-cost” corporations are profit oriented, they give little benefits and salaries to their staff members based on their poor training. This is very dangerous because wardens and staff members are forced into acquiring money using dubious methods in the prison. They begin smuggling objects to the prisoners and they are corrupted to protect a prisoner. The situation is very devastating because they manage to give prisoners weapons, which cause violence and help them to escape. Maahssays that wardens indulge in such activities so that they can make more money since they are underpaid (362). Similarly, their motivation is deprived; hence, they are not keen in managing prisoners leading to a rise in occurrences of aggressiveness and escape.
Another reason that validates the closure of private run prisons is the external pressure that they are receiving from other institutions. There is too much opposition from other organizations that are demanding for a cessation on creation of “for-cost” operated prisons. The religious and clergy group is among the most agitated institution as they are demanding closure of the clandestine run prisons in the United States. Human rights groups and activists have taken to the streets to protest the confinement of prisoners in profit making institutions. Some of the legislators are using this aspect as their campaigning tool; hence, initiated a political swerve in this issue. There have been increased lawsuits against the Correctional Corporations of America (CCA) due to the rampant cases of cruelness, lack of staff, gang activity, and contract scheme. The situation worsened in 2013 when some insurance firms, such as Amica Mutual Insurance, DSM North America, and ScopiaCapita Management relinquished their insurance covers on the CCA (Matt 214).
Positive effects of private prisons
On the other hand, the observed benefits of private prisons cannot be overlooked since they have contributed in revolutionizing the state of inmate management in the United States. One of the notable contributions is that they helped in decongesting the public prisons improving their prisoner welfare. The emergence of private prison subsidized the staff to prison ratio, leading to a reduction in violence and escaping cases in public prisons. Traditionally, prisons were equated to hell due to their devastated conditions that were contributed by huge population in the prisons (Zito 34). Similarly, the private prisons contributed to the economy by availing finances to the market. According to the Wall Street commercial banks, CCA and GEO, which operated the private prisons attracted investors, such as Wells Fargo that invested 106 million dollars. The entire prison industry made $5 billion in 2011 as revenue with profits garnered approximated to reach 500% mark (Matt 215). That is a positive contribution to the economic system given that they created opportunities, such as employment and increased rehabilitation to the public. These are among the accounted benefits of running a privately owned prison.
Privately owned prisons have been popularized since the end of the 20th century, but they have experienced a rock bottom since 2013. From the observations made in this study, institutions are opposed to the construction of new private prisons and the renewal of contracts of the already existing private prisons. It is quite clear that these prisons are detrimental to the economic and social-cultural aspects. For instance, they are costly because they are operating under contractual terms and they have to maximize on the little finances within the given time. There are also numerous cases of jail violence and escapees from private prisons (Schmalleger 87). Employees in this sector are underpaid and their working welfare is poorly observed. There are numerous loopholes for corruption as these prisons are seeking to obtain inmates through dubious methods so that they can make profit. Similarly, the underpaid staff and prison officers are prone to corruption from the prisoners and this spoils their situation in the prisons. There are also some few notable benefits of the privately owned prisons, such as decongestion, improved economic status, and creation of employment among others. However, for the two decades that private prisons have existed, it is clear that they have failed to materialize their mandate. Therefore, it is clear that “for-cost” corporations should not be allowed to run prisons in the United States.
Bureau of Justice Statistics. “Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2004” (April 2005).
Kevin, Pranis. “Cost-Saving or Cost-Shifting—The Fiscal Impact of Prison Privatization in Arizona” (February 2005), Private Corrections Institute, Inc.,
Pratt, Travis C., and Jeff Maahs. Are Private Prisons More Cost-Effective Than Public Prisons? A Meta-Analysis of Evaluation Research Studies. Crime & Delinquency, 45.3(1999): 358-371.
Matt Taibbi. The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap. (2014). Spiegel &Grau. ISBN 081299342X pp. 214-216.
Schmalleger, Frank., and Smykla, John. Corrections in the 21st Century. New York: McGraw
Zito, M. Prison Privatization: Past and Present, December 2003. Retrieved October 1, 2006, from the International Foundation for Protection Officers