The True Cost of Prison Privatization
NCCD Blog
The True Cost of Prison Privatization
May 14, 2012   |  by Caroline Glesmann, Researcher, NCCD and Erin Hanusa, Senior Communications Manager, NCCD

On May 14th, NCCD released “Prison Bed Profiteers: How Corporations Are Reshaping Criminal Justice in the U.S.,” a new report focusing on the disconnect between claims made by supporters of privatization and the true impact of the private prison industry. The report provides jurisdictions, communities, and advocates with information and recommendations regarding slowing the growth of private prisons and improving existing facilities. Click here to read the full report, which was funded by the Public Welfare Foundation.

Today in the United States, about eight percent of all inmates are housed in privately operated facilities. This percentage includes a large proportion of immigrant detainees. Two corporations, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group, hold the majority of this country’s private prison contracts.

The profit motive is at the heart of private prison companies’ goals. This motivation was recently underlined by CCA’s offer to officials in 48 states to buy their prison facilities in exchange for lucrative contract terms. A central claim made by private prison supporters is that privatizing prison facilities provides substantial savings and quick relief to overcrowding. Another popular argument concerns the local economic benefits to be gained from the construction and operation of a prison in a small city or town.

The report demonstrates that many common claims of private prison companies have not only been repeatedly disproven, but that the private model often results in the hiring of low-paid, poorly trained staff, which can lead to compromised levels of safety for staff and inmates, as well as the general public. The report also explores the influence private prison companies exert over criminal justice policymaking and the industry’s overall lack of transparency.

“Since we know private prisons aren’t going away in the near future, we sought insight from experts about substantive ways to slow expansion and improve implementation, operation, and oversight,” said Chris Hartney, senior researcher with NCCD. “A critical part of this effort is encouraging lawmakers and jurisdictions to consider other options that have been shown to be viable, particularly promoting alternatives to incarceration, and, when choosing privatization, demanding stronger contracting and monitoring.”

The report features experts’ opinions on issues such as how to develop better contracts between government entities and private prison companies, how to create more effective monitoring strategies, how to improve transparency, and how local residents can educate themselves when a private prison company is interested in locating in their community.

Changes in incarceration and sentencing policies are more effective ways of providing both short- and long-term relief to overcrowding. Click here to read about how NCCD is using data and research to promote sustainable, effective, safe incarceration and justice policies.


Some recent news articles about prison privatization:

California to Start Bringing Back Inmates in Out-of-State Prisons

The Unbelievable Brutality Unleashed on Kids in For-Profit Prisons

Firm Leaves Mississippi After Its Prison Is Called a 'Cesspool'

Private purchasing of prisons locks in occupancy rates

Private Prison Corporation Offers Cash In Exchange For State Prisons

Caroline Glesmann is a Researcher at NCCD. Erin Hanusa is the Senior Communications Manager at NCCD.

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