Arguments Against Private Prisons

-    Legitimacy

o   When a private prison takes over responsibility for the administration of punishment and rehabilitation, it overtakes the inherent responsibility of the public discretionary function at the expense of inmates’ liberty interests (Anderson, 2009).

o   Private-seeking entities that are in charge of inmate care create clear legal and moral questions.

§  According to the Supreme Court, Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments cannot delegate discretionary governmental functions to private entities that have financial stakes in which this power of discretion would be applied (Anderson, 2009).

·     The day-to-day decisions of punishment by prison employees are inherently discretionary and cannot be effected by the goals of the operator without violating prisoners’ due process rights (Anderson, 2009).

·     Private prison employees often have stock in their company or receive some type of profit-incentive, and as a result, this profit motive can directly influence their professional decisions (i.e. longer sentences and no goodtime) (Anderson, 2009).

-    Benefits are hardly noticed

o   Private prisons have been used by the penal system as a strategy to manage overcrowding prisons at a lower cost. However, these benefits are hardly noticeable while also failing to meet humanitarian and social problems that are presented by private prisons (Anderson, 2009). Some experts say that private prisons perpetuate the problem of overcrowding.

o   The government use current expenditures in the budget or use capital bonds to construct private prisons (Schwartz & Nurge, 2004). This arises the ethical issue of funding when constructing private prisons.

o   When calculating the cost of private prisons, lawmakers fail to consider the long-term indirect costs and unexpected costs of private prisons. Indirect costs include recidivism, compliance of monitoring and enforcement procedures, and legal challenges (Schwartz & Nurge, 2004).

o   In Florida, recidivism rates for adult males, adult females, and juveniles have no significant difference between public and private inmates (Bales et al., 2005).

§  Even though private prisons have the ability to experiment and try new programs to increase their chances of post-release success, this expectation of enriching programs to reduce recidivism has not occurred by private prisons (Bales et al., 2005).

-    Market-business model

o   Privatization negatively impacts the treatment, rehabilitation, and the care of prisoners due to the for-profit motivations.

o   Cost-cutting measures lead to decreased quality of care.

§  Because private prison companies are seeking profit, these companies work to reduce costs wherever possible. These cost-cutting measures are likely to lead to safety risks and inadequate delivery of services (Anderson, 2009).

·     In a 1992 study, federal and state prisons outperformed private prisons in the area of care, which included stress, illness, health care delivered, dental care, counseling, and staffing for programs and services. (Logan, 1992).

§  Because private prison employees receive fewer benefits and less pay, the turnover is higher for correctional officers. The average starting salary for private correctional officers is $18,000 and $23,000 for public correctional officers (Chang & Thompkins, 2002). As a result, private prisons must offer overtime or reduce the number of training hours. Private prison guards receive 35% fewer training hours than public prison guards (Anderson, 2009).

·     Correctional officer turnover rate in private prison is 43% compared to 15% for public prisons (Blakely & Bumphus, 2004).

·     In Ohio, private prison employees carried weapons even though there was no formal weapons training (Anderson, 2009).

·     In Texas, private prison employees watched videos of beating inmates as their training (Anderson, 2009).

§  Since staffing accounts for 70% of the prison budge, private prisons often cut costs in labor (Blakely & Bumphus, 2004).

·     Private prisons employee 15% fewer guards per prison than public prisoners (Anderson, 2009). As a result, violence among inmates and assaults on correctional officers is more frequent in private prisons.

·     In 2001, a study found private prisons have 65% more inmate-on-inmate assaults and 49% more inmate-on-staff-assaults (Anderson, 2009).

§  With a large turnover of staff, the security of prison operations becomes vulnerable.

·     Private prisons have higher rates of positive detection rates for unauthorized substances compared to public prisons (Camp & Gaes, 2002). This is likely to indicate a pattern of poor security practices within private prisons.

·     Escapes from prison are often a rare occurrence. In 1999, BOP had one escape from their facility while private prisons accounted for 23 escapes. When an escape does occur, it is likely to indicate loopholes in security practices.

o   In Ohio, five murders escaped a maximum-security private prison.

§  The food budget can easily be manipulated compared to other parts of the budget. As a result, it is important to examine the food quality in prisons. In a case study of Taft Correctional Institution (a private prison), this private institution ranked the worst in quality of food, variety of food, and amount of food compared to all BOP facilities (Camp et al., 2002).

o   The goals of private prisons are to profit and as result private prisons disregard the goals of the justice system of inmate rehabilitation and deterrence.

§  For example, deterrence would lead to fewer inmates which reduces private prisons’ profits (Anderson, 2009). 

o   Private prisons encourage three-strikes laws and get tough on crime.

§  Early-release, parole, and good behavior programs are likely to be discouraged in private prisons because this would cause fewer profits for private prisons (Anderson, 2009).

§  Private prisons lobby for harsh criminal laws to increase profit at the cost of inmates’ wellbeing.

·         In 1998 election cycle, private prisons contributed $540,000 to 361 politicians (Anderson, 2009).

·         Also, illegal means of influencing lawmakers were used by private corporations such as Correctional Services Corporation (CSC) who provided free chauffeurs to lawmakers (Anderson, 2009).

·         Bribes were also used as method to encourage private prisons. In 2009, two Pennsylvania judges received $2.6 million to oppose alternative and lenient sentences for juveniles (Anderson, 2009).

§  Incarceration negatively affects recidivism rates (Anderson, 2009).