The phrase “private prison” seems like a contradiction in terms. After all, what could possibly be private about getting stuck in jail for months and years and sharing your living space with hundreds and even thousands of other people? However, private prisons refer to places of incarceration that are managed by a third party that’s contracted by the government instead of being run by the government itself. These prisons are established in several parts of the world, including Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The privatization of prisons can happen in three major ways. First, the government may build the prison then outsource its operations to third parties. Second, private companies may run the prison from start to finish; they finance, design, and construct the facilities and, once the buildings are erected, they eventually manage the prison. Third, the government may take a prison that’s currently managed by the public sector and contract it out to a private company. In all three scenarios, the third-party company is then paid a daily or monthly rate either for the actual number of inmates it houses or the number of beds/places available (whether they’re used or not).
Private prisons have garnered praise over the years, but there are those who believe that these places do more harm than good. To understand how private prisons affect the government and the general public, it’s important to know what its advantages and disadvantages are.
List of Advantages of Private Prisons
1. They can help the government save time, effort, and money.
Managing prisons can be expensive, time-consuming, and labor-intensive and therefore require the government to spend a huge amount of resources. However, this can be avoided when the government outsources prison management to third-party companies. These companies can lower their expenses by limiting the benefits they give to their employees, such as overtime pay, medical and dental coverage, and holiday bonuses. As a result, the government won’t have to pay them much, and it can save a substantial amount of money in the long run.
Investing in private prisons also allows the government to reduce its workload. Since it no longer has to manage a lot of prisons, it can focus its time and workforce on other public and social services.
2. They can keep prison populations at the right level.
One of the biggest challenges in the penal system nowadays is the rise of public prison populations. This is a huge problem since overcrowded prisons require large amounts of food, water, heating, and electricity as well as high numbers of jail wardens and other personnel, making them extremely costly to maintain. They also create unhealthy and unsafe living environments for the inmates, which don’t only put them at risk for illnesses and injuries but also impinge on their human rights.
Fortunately, prison populations can be reduced when the government opts to work with private prisons. Since these areas can house hundreds and even thousands of inmates, they can greatly help in preventing public prisons from getting overcrowded and ensuring that prisoners can have a decent and comfortable place to live.
3. They help create more jobs.
Private prisons can’t function on their own; they need to have lots of employees who’ll cook food for the inmates, provide them with medical care, and guard them to ensure they won’t escape. As a result, they create employment opportunities for hundreds and even thousands of people and help them earn a decent income for themselves and their families. Private prisons also assist in developing the local economy since they invest most of what they earn back into the community.
List of Disadvantages of Private Prisons
1. They may not be as cost-effective as they’re believed to be.
Ideally, private prisons have lower expenses that state-run prisons and can help the government save money. However, several studies have shown that this isn’t really true in several cases. Some companies, for example, accept only low-risk inmates and return high-risk ones to state-managed prisons to keep their costs low and avoid the responsibility of dealing with dangerous convicts. This, in turn, means that the government still has to deal with the cost and hassle of housing high-risk prisoners.
2. They may not be as safe and secure as they need to be.
Many private prisons want to prove that they’re cheaper than state-managed ones, and they go to great lengths just to do so. Unfortunately, several of the cost-cutting techniques they use can actually lead to dangerous consequences. Some private prisons, for instance, don’t train their staff as often as needed and therefore have personnel who don’t know how to properly guard inmates and maintain peace and order. Other private jail facilities hire only a handful of employees, which means that their inmate-to-staff ratio is too low and that their premises are inadequately staffed most of the time.
The low level of safety and security in private prisons was highlighted during the 2010 jailbreak in Mohave County in Arizona, during which three murderers escaped from a private prison and went on to commit kidnappings, robberies, and even murders. The investigation revealed that the prison didn’t properly screen visitors, and its staff didn’t patrol the premises as often as they should have. These factors most likely contributed to the prisoners’ easy escape from the facility.
3. They can encourage corruption and injustice.
Many private prison owners abuse their authority to further their own agenda, without any thought to the inmates they house in their facilities. One example of this is the “kids for cash scandal” in 2008, which revealed that the builder of private juvenile detention centers had bribed two judges to give too-harsh sentences to children who committed minor offenses. These children were given extended stays in the detention centers to increase the number of residents and ensure the private prison gets to receive more money from the government.
Private prisons have several advantages, particularly when they’re used properly. However, they can be abused by those who are in authority and can risk the lives of inmates, prison staff, and even the entire community. Because of these, the government and the people should keep a close eye on private prisons to enjoy the benefits they give while minimizing their disadvantages.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.