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Development and Impact of Privatized Prisons

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 3850 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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The growth of private prison corporations has led many people to question its credibility when compared to state-run facilities. One of the main reasons private prisons were started was to save the government more money and to prevent prisons being overpopulated. Although there hasn’t been much research on private prisons, there is enough to support the claim that they are not reliable. Furthermore, while it can prevent congestion in prisons, there are many problems that arise from its use. The issues of cost, quality, and efficiency have dominated the discussion on privatization (Jewkes, Crewe, & Bennett, 2007).

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Prior to the War on Drugs campaign led by the Reagan administration in the early 1980s, private prison companies did not exist. The War on Drugs campaign led to stricter and longer sentences for drug offenders (Joy, 2018). As a result, prison populations increased which led to overcrowding. In response, for-profit corporations stepped in and helped mitigate the problem. By allowing these corporations to build and run private facilities, the government gave them the power and authority to operate it without any intervention from the state.

Over the years, the privatization of correctional facilities has become an increasingly important topic as the government seeks to find a less expensive approach to providing services to the public. Overcapacity in prisons was one of the primary motivators behind this idea to keep costs at a minimum. However, the point at issue by privatization is that companies driven by money might base their decisions on profits rather than the health and well-being of its prisoners (Durham, 1993). Given the fact that private prison companies are motivated by financial gain raises concerns as to whether it would be acceptable for private contractors to benefit from the incarceration of individuals (Jewkes et al., 2007). Private prisons are troubled with problems due to their profit-seeking inclinations which has led to such ill-treatment of prisoners. Lack of oversight has contributed to the inhumane living conditions in private prisons (Durham, 1993).

It is essential that we find the proper correctional approach when dealing with private prisons because they offer poor quality of confinement when compared to state-run facilities. Supporters have argued that inadequate care and staff neglect would hinder future use of privatization. Careful monitoring and legislation could help fix this issue to hold the contractor accountable for any wrongdoing and deter abuse of power (“U.S. Prison Overcrowding,” 2013). Furnishing safe and humane conditions of imprisonment for inmates in their custody are clearly not their main priorities. Additionally, private prisons should offer more programs and services to inmates. One of the reasons they appear cheaper on the surface is because they offer few to no programs in their prisons (Wizowaty, 2013). Private prison corporations are in the business of generating the most possible profits. For the past decade or so, private prison organizations have become the driving force of mass incarcerations in the United States. The state and local government has suffered drastically from prison confinement, and the only ones benefiting from this outcome are private prison industry owners and their stockholders, reaping in billions in revenue (Eber & Winter, 2012).

Quality of confinement and the profit motive

Studies on private prisons have determined that they are motivated by money. (Ackerman & Furman, 2013; Austin & Coventry, 2001; Lindsey, Mears, & Cochran, 2016; Tartaglia, 2014). Private prison companies driven by money “base their decisions on profits and ignore the well-being of inmates (Austin & Coventry, 2001, p. 17).” This driving force causes prison staff to make poor decisions and can lead to the ill-treatment of inmates. Dolovich (2005) asserts that privately-run prisons are prone to more inmate abuse than state-run prisons because of their inclination towards a profit-seeking behavior. His findings reveal that private institutions increase profits in two ways. Firstly, “they will want to cut down on inmate expenditures (rehabilitative programs, etc.) (Dolovich, 2005, p. 474).” Secondly, “they will attempt to cut down on labor costs (Dolovich, 2005, p. 475).”

Kerwin (2015) claims that private institutions pay more attention to reducing costs than offering programs to inmates. Data gathered from Mississippi prisons reveal that private prisons will try anything in an attempt to increase the amount of time each prisoner must serve in order to increase profits. At the University of Wisconsin, professor Mukherjee analyzed the correlation between recidivism rates and time served by each inmate in private and state-run prisons. She found that “inmates in public facilities committed less infractions than those in private prisons (Kerwin, 2015, p. 6).” Infractions are used by parole boards to decide if an inmate should be released early (Kerwin, 2015).

Health and medical care

 Data gathered by the Justice Department reveals that providing medical-care to inmates costs millions of dollars each year. (Casendino, 2017). In an attempt to resolve this issue, the government has allowed private healthcare businesses to step-in and provide care at a cheaper price. Health experts estimate that more than half of all prisons use private healthcare providers (Casendino, 2017). Studies conducted by Schultz (2015) and Casendino (2017) discover that from 2010 to 2014, private expenditure has risen over two million (about 15 percent). These healthcare providers claim that their services help keep costs at a minimum. However, cutting back on such services has led to terrible consequences (Ackerman & Furman, 2013; Casendino, 2017; Tartaglia, 2014). Medical doctors at Harvard conducted surveys of prisoners in private prisons and their studies revealed that inmates were in need of more medical-care than people in the community.

According to Casendino (2017), roughly 40 percent of inmates require constant medical attention. Additionally, Casendino (2017) finds that about 10 to 20 percent of inmates in private prisons are not subject to a medical exam after incarceration. Consequently, this can lead to many widespread health problems within the prison. Lack of medical treatment has led to infectious diseases and even death (Ackerman & Furman, 2013; Austin & Coventry, 2001; Hamilton, 2011; Mulch, 2009; Tartaglia, 2014).

Prison Security and Violence

Privatization was meant to be a more productive and beneficial way to house inmates. Ackerman and Furman (2013), and Tartaglia (2014) assert that state prisons are more reliable than private prisons. Tartaglia (2014) states that public facilities are less likely encounter acts of violence than private facilities. He finds that inmate-to-staff violence is 4 times more likely to occur in private prisons (Tartaglia, 2014). To keep security costs at a minimum, only non-violent offenders are brought in. It is evident that a prison with low-security increases the chances of violence. For this reason, guards must be properly trained.

In 2014, an Idaho private prison was under criminal investigation by the FBI for misreporting staffing levels. Due to understaffing, correctional officers would reportedly negotiate with various gangs within the prison to maintain order (Mumford, Schanzenbach, & Nunn, n.d.). The investigation revealed that the private prison was short-staffed and the correctional officers were inadequately trained. They were given only half the training required by state correctional officers (Mumford et al., n.d.). In 2008, a Texas study revealed that “officer turnover in private correctional facilities was around 80 percent compared to public prisons’ 20 percent (Mumford et al., p. 5, n.d).” Low pay was found to be one of main factors explaining the high turnover rates.

Immigration detention and inmate rights

As state prisons seek to find a solution for overcrowding, private prison companies will need to do business elsewhere. Not long ago, Senator Lara introduced a bill which aimed to prohibit counties from hiring private contractors to detain immigrants. This bill was dismissed and vetoed by Governor Brown (“Southern Poverty,” 2016). After the veto, the Justice Department stopped using private prisons. But once Trump became president, the decision was reversed.

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Ackerman and Furman (2013) assert that immigrants are seen as assets to private prison companies because they help fill up beds and thus, increase revenue, but many issues have emerged in terms of immigrant rights. Since hundreds of immigrants get deported every year, private prison companies recognize it as a source of revenue. They are more interested in the amount of money they can make from immigrant detention than their actual rights (Adler University, 2016). When private companies are put in charge of detention, it prevents the government from intervening and encourages them to run the facility the way they want it, which could lead to poor supervision and maltreatment of detainees (Hamilton, 2001).

 Austin and Coventry (2001) have conducted various studies that address the ways in which immigrant rights are violated. They reveal that in most cases, they are forced to eat expired food, drink polluted water, and are not given proper shelter. Many immigrants come to the United States in an attempt to escape the poor living conditions from third world countries, but when they are sent to these detention centers they are treated as animals and ignored of their rights. For instance, in 2007, a law suit was filed against CoreCivic, a private prison company, because it was reported that one of their prisons was housing three immigrants in cells that were only meant for two (Mulch, 2009).

Recidivism and Incarceration rates

The United States is ranked number one in when it comes to incarceration rates per 100,000 (Mulch, 2009). Many believe this is due to the war on drugs from the late 1980s. Mulch (2009) finds that during the 1980s, the prison population rose to record numbers (more than 60 percent), and to the present day it has increased from 100,000 to more than a million. Many of which have been in and out of prison. Hamilton (2011) and Mulch’s (2009) findings indicate that imprisoning people in private facilities could increase recidivism.

Studies done by Bale and Mears (2008) suggest that those who are allowed visitation in prison are less likely to recidivate than the ones who are denied. A study done on hundreds of inmates who were released from prisons in the state of Minnesota revealed that visitation reduced the chances a person will recidivate once released by more than 10 percent (Bale & Mears, 2008). Similar studies were conducted in Florida, where it was revealed that those with visitation were more than 20 percent less inclined to recidivate and resort to deviant behavior. This data suggests that informal social control while in prison could help rehabilitate an individual and reduce their chances of reoffending. It is crucial that individuals have somewhere to go in the outside world because more than half of the prison population eventually gets out. Informal control is important for inmates because it gives them the support they need to get back on their feet once they get out of prison. This in turn, reduces recidivism.

Private prisons were built in an attempt to save the government money and provide a solution to overcrowding. However, they have gone to extreme measures in order to maximize profits. One of the ways they try to save money is by cutting back on prison programs. Programs are supposed to assist inmates in rehabilitating. The Department of Corrections in Minnesota conducted a study that revealed that “high recidivism rates at privatized prisons was due to the lack of programs, like those that teach job skills and prepare prisoners for life after release, an important fact considering the vast majority of prisoners eventually return to their communities (Graybill, para. 10, 2016).” The fact of the matter is that private prison companies are in the business of making money than reducing the rate of incarceration. If this problem persists, recidivism rates will continue to grow.

In Colorado, roughly 20 percent of the states inmate population is housed in private institutions. As Dougherty (2017) states, “a profit-based prison system completely undermines the mission, integrity, and fairness of our justice system (para. 3).” Prisons were built to punish people for their wrongdoing and provide safety to the community. The purpose is to rehabilitate the individual to be able to successfully reintegrate them back into society in hopes that they will not return to prison. However, private corporations like to profit from incarceration, so they house as many inmates as they can for as much time as they can. This in turn increases recidivism — they work to turn them into repeat offenders.

Privately run prisons have played a significant role when it comes to incarceration rates. They increase the rate of incarceration by lobbying with politicians (Ashton & Petteruti, 2011). Privatized companies offer to pay for political campaigns, and in return they want them to influence policy in their favor. For example, in the 2009 kids for cash scandal, judges were accused of accepting bribes of over a million dollars by private corporations to increase the rate of incarceration solely for the purpose of increasing their annual profits (Joy, 2018). Many were detained for simple violations like not appearing in court or shoplifting. Private companies like Corrections Corporation of America has reportedly spent more than 10 million on lobbying in efforts to prevent new immigration laws that would help them become American citizens (Joy, 2018). They rely on people who are in this country illegally to help fill up their detention centers.


Many would contend that private prisons are a better option compared to state-run prisons. Others would assert that there is not much research that has been done to logically conclude that privatizing prisons is a good idea. Although there is not sufficient data to support either side, there is however enough studies to suggest that it leads to a violation of the eight amendment. Future suggestions towards the use of private prisons is that it should not be used because they are in the business of making the most money they can, imprisonment just adds to their profits.

A solution that can be put forth to fix the overcrowding problem is “to increase parole eligibility for inmates 50 and older who have not reached their minimum sentences (Wizowaty, para. 17, 2013).” Reoffending decreases dramatically with age because of physical and mental deterioration (“Criminal behavior decline,” n.d.). To ease skepticism, parole boards could utilize the Ohio risk assessment system to measure the individual’s likelihood of reoffending. Federal studies have found that “more than 40 percent of inmates released from prison between the ages of 18 and 49 were more likely to resort to delinquent behavior and end up back in prison. In comparison, only about 3 percent of those released over the age of 50 had trouble with the law (“Criminal behavior decline,” para. 1, n.d.).”

As mentioned throughout this paper, various studies have revealed that accountability is an issue when it comes to private prison companies. Lack of oversight, programs, and services supports the conclusion that private prisons are a bad idea. Prison reform can offer a solution to the many problems prisoners face like inhumane prison conditions. Providing more training for correctional officers can help ensure that inmates are not abused and given adequate care. Generally, private companies “do not have to follow the open records rules like public companies do, and as a result, they are held less accountable to the public (Graybill, para. 12, 2016).” Inmate needs must be considered when assessing the use private prisons. As Graybill (2016) states, “in the case of criminal justice, the profit motive creates incentives and values that conflict with the public interest (para. 15).”


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