Right-Wing Pushes Costly and Inefficient Prison Privatization Schemes

This session, right-wing officials have been peddling costly, inefficient, and socially damaging prison privatization schemes. Several states, including Louisiana, Florida, and Ohio, have considered proposals to hand over the operation and management of prisons to private entities.

Both federal and state governments have utilized private firms to operate prisons, despite the lack of savings and incidences of systematic failures. The Private Corrections Institute has analyzed several issues with privatization, which include “major riots, sex abuse scandals… improper billing by private prison companies… employment law violations, higher employee turnover rates, increased levels of prisoner-on-prisoner and prisoner-on-staff violence, lack of transparency and public accountability, and higher recidivism rates for inmates released from privately-operated prisons.” On top of that, the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy finds that there is no compelling evidence that prison privatization has led to savings.

Further, the Miami Herald recently published an alarming report which examines even more issues with prison privatization, including, "mismanagement by state monitors, lax contracts, overbilling by prison contractors, a corruption investigation, and a legal loophole that allowed sexual misconduct in private facilities to go unpunished."

Just as disturbing, several of these types of deals are further marred by conflicts of interest and political cronyism. Private corporations have eyed the profitability of prisons, and in turn, heavily donated to politicians across the country. In Florida, the two largest prison contractors and affiliate entities donated over $1.5 million to state Republicans in the past decade. In 2009, the Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest private prison firm, donated $15,000 to the California GOP, $7,500 to the state’s Democratic party, and $100,000 to former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Budget Reform Now coalition.

Privatization often comes at the expense of constitutional safeguards, fiscal sustainability, accountability, proper oversight, and public trust. Recent privatization attempts have been met with political backlash, scandal, and public disapproval. Lawmakers should take action to prevent such debacles from occurring by halting costly privatization ventures and augmenting accountability in the state budget process. For example, Indiana Rep. Gail Riecken introduced a bill last session to end privatization of social services in her state last session. Legislators can also consider requiring augmented transparency of state contracting, much like initiatives in Colorado and New Mexico.

Full Resources from this Article

Right-Wing Pushes Costly and Inefficient Prison Privatization Schemes

American Civil Liberties Union – Prisons for Profit: A Look at Prison Privatization
Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy – Are Florida's Private Prisons Keeping Their Promise?
In the Public Interest – Backgrounder Brief: Prison Privatization
In the Public Interest – Prisons, Detention Centers, and Public Safety
Mother Jones – The GOP’s Jail Sell
Miami Herald – Effort to privatize Florida prisons raises questions of cost

This article is part of PSN's email newsletter, The Stateside Dispatch.
View other items from this edition