Private Prisons Should Be Closed
When a father went to visit his son in a private prison, the staff told him his son was not there and that they didn’t know where he was. After 6-weeks, he found his son in a local hospital. His son had suffered severe brain damage and now has the mental capacity of a two-year old. He was injured in a brawl that investigators found was instigated by a guard who was running a prison fight club.
If you were incarcerated, wouldn’t you want the state to ensure your safety and that your rights would not be abused? As taxpayers, you should be concerned about how your money is used to fund these unsafe and inefficient private prisons. From the research I have gathered, it is apparent that the use of private prisons has too many trade-offs to be considered viable due to their widespread issues of cost effectiveness and mistreatment of prisoners. Throughout this post, I’ll explain the advantages of ending the use of private prisons, which are: an increased focus on rehabilitation, better treatment of prisoners, similar or lower costs of operation, and a reevaluation of the harsh penalties that have contributed to overcrowding.
In the U.S., not all prisons are run by the government. Some are operated by private companies that the government pays to house prisoners. The three largest companies are the Corrections Corporation of America, the GEO Group, and the Management and Training Corporation. Operations of these prisons are handled by these companies instead of the government.
The first advantage is that public prisons would focus more on rehabilitation than private prisons because the government does not benefit from repeat offenders. Private prisons claim they can lower recidivism (reoffending) rates with state-of-the-art rehabilitation programs. However, according to Anita Mukherjee’s August 10, 2016, study in the Social Science Research Network, prisoners in Mississippi’s private prisons recidivated no less than public prisoners despite serving more time (Mukherjee 2016). Brian Kincade cites a study of recidivism rates in private prisons in Oklahoma in his March 23, 2016, article in Smart Asset that found private prisoners recidivated 4% more than their public counterparts (Kincade 2016). State of the art rehabilitation programs would cut into corporate profits and would interfere with the steady flow of incarcerations private prisons depend on to make a profit. Public prisons do not operate to make a profit. They have more of an incentive to properly rehabilitate prisoners to lower crime rates. Because with lower crime rates, the government saves money and society is overall safer. Now that I’ve discussed why rehabilitation will be focused on more, I’ll explain how prisoners will be properly treated.
The second advantage is that states would directly oversee the treatment of prisoners and ensure their rights are not abused. One example of prisoner mistreatment is the conditions that led to the recent closure of a GEO Group prison in Mississippi. The Southern Poverty Law Center wrote about the conditions on their website on September 15th, 2016 (SPLC 2016). Department of Justice investigators found frequent sexual abuse, widespread violence, and that the prison was controlled by gangs with help from the guards. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves found the state was violating the rights of prisoners by not protecting them from the gang control and stated “the evidence…paints a picture of a facility struggling with disorder, periodic mayhem, and staff ineptitude which leads to perpetual danger of the inmates and staff”. These are not isolated incidents and issues like these are widespread in private prisons across the country. The federal government itself has stated that private prisons run less safely than public prisons. An August 18th, 2016, article by Gwendolyn Wu published by TakePart cites that Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said that private prisons “compare poorly to our own Bureau facilities…they simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources…[and] they do not maintain the same level of safety or security.” (Wu 2016). States can provide better quality treatment to prisoners and can directly oversee that the rights that they guarantee the prisoners are not abused. Now that I’ve discussed how states will directly oversee that prisoners are treated properly; I’ll explain how ending the use of private prisons will not increase costs.
The third advantage is that states would not be taking on new (long-term) costs and in many cases, states would save money by ending their use of private prisons. On paper, many private prisons seem to have a lower per diem rate (per prisoner cost) than public prisons, however they aren’t paying for the same things that states must. In his 2016 article in the Fordham Urban Law Journal, Alex Friedmann lists the many ways private prisons offset their costs to the public in order for their per diem rate to appear lower than public prisons (Friedmann 2016). They tend to only house low-security healthy adult males, the least expensive type of prisoner to house. This leaves the most expensive prisoners for the states to house. States still have to pay for medical care for prisoners in private prisons. Wages paid to prisoners in private prisons are reimbursed by the state. In one year, the Corrections Corporation of America saved $30-66 million and the GEO Group saved $33-72 million from not paying prisoner wages. After adjusting for these factors and others, Alex Friedmann wrote in the same article that in many states private prisons were more expensive than public prisons (Friedmann 2016). States would be paying just as much if not less to house prisoners in their own prisons. The only new cost they would be taking on would be the short-term cost of buying the private prisons that aren’t already being rented from the states. Now that I’ve explained how costs of prison operation will not increase, I’ll explain how ending the use of private prisons would force officials to rethink harsh laws that have contributed to overcrowding.
The fourth advantage is that by ending the use of private prisons, companies would no longer lobby for harsh punishments, forcing officials to reevaluate tough on crime laws to deal with overcrowding. Harsh penalties for non-violent offenders are the major causes of overcrowding. Michael Cohen cites many cases of private prison companies spending millions of dollars in campaign contributions and lobbying in his April 28th, 2015, article published in the Washington Post (Cohen 2016). The GEO Group and the Corrections Corporation of America have paid over $10 million in campaign contributions and over $25 million for lobbying. They lobby for laws that will punish non-violent offenders harshly and contribute to candidates who will vote for these laws and who will give the companies lucrative contracts. By eliminating the use of private prisons, government officials would no longer receive monetary incentives to harshly punish petty offenders. Ending the use of private prisons to combat overcrowding would force lawmakers to reevaluate these severe penalties.
I’ve told you about four advantages of ending the use of private prisons; an increased focus on rehabilitation, better treatment of prisoners, similar or lower costs of operation, and a reevaluation of the harsh penalties that have contributed to overcrowding. With these advantages in mind, states should end their use of private prisons. The young man I mentioned at the beginning of my speech could’ve had a brighter future if he was housed in a public prison. Instead of suffering debilitating brain damage, he would’ve been properly rehabilitated, and after serving his time he could’ve returned to the general public and contributed to society.
Barbaric private prison in Mississippi closes its doors after SPLC lawsuit. (2016, September 15). The Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved from https://www.splcenter.org
Cohen, Michael. (2015, April 28). How for-profit prisons have become the biggest lobby no one is talking about. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com
Friedmann, Alex. (2016). Apples-to-fish: Public and private prison cost comparisons. Fordham Urban Law Journal, 42(2), 502-568. Retrieved from http://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu
Gilna, Derek. (2016, September 6). GEO Texas immigration facility hit for substandard health care and understaffing. Prison Legal News. Retrieved from https://www.prisonlegalnews.org
Kincade, Brian. (2016, March 23). The economics of the American prison system. Smart Asset. Retrieved from https://smartasset.com
Mukherjee, Anita. (2016, August 10). Impacts of private prison contracting on inmate time served and recidivism. Social Science Research Network. Retrieved from http://papers.ssrn.com
Wu, Gwendolyn. (2016, August 18). Activists to feds: closing private prisons won’t help most inmates. TakePart. Retrieved from http://www.takepart.com/