It was recently announced that the government is planning to do away with private prisons in the federal system. This announcement was received with lots of joy in certain quarters – especially among the ranks of the activists who have been campaigning against the private prisons. As the discussion dragged along, I found myself trying to figure out what the problem with private correctional facilities is. After all, we have always been told that the private sector is always more effective and efficient when it comes to service provision. Against that background, one would expect privatization to be the key to ensuring that corrective facilities are effective at the role they are supposed to play in the society. Yet that doesn’t seem to be the case, going the complaints that have been raised. So, what is the problem with private correctional facilities?
My investigations into this subject have revealed that the main problem with private correctional facilities is actually one of perception. Many people are simply uncomfortable with the idea of private companies running prisons. We have been conditioned to expect the government to be the provider of certain services – among them the police services, national defense and the correctional services in question. Therefore, the idea of having private companies providing correctional services is one that is hard to accept, for most of us.
We, of course, have people who feel that the private prisons phenomenon is one that has potential to be abused. We heard similar concerns, when the idea of outsourcing payroll accounting to companies such as Securitas (through the Securitasepay payroll system) was first introduced. With regard to private prisons, there are folks who feel that the companies that are in that business are likely to be tempted to do everything in their power, and to go to great – possibly immoral – lengths to ensure that the prisons are always full. And one has to accept that is a real possibility, especially in a system where the proprietors of the private prisons are paid on the basis of the numbers of inmates in the facilities.