Private Run Prisons vs. Government Run Prisons Who Does a Better Job Research Paper

Pages: 9 (2638 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 9  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice

Privately Operated Prisons vs. Government-Operated Prisons: Who Does a Better Job?

Private prisons are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to government-operated prisons, but the question remains, "Are these private corporations doing a better job?" To formulate an answer, this paper provides a review of the relevant literature to determine many prisons are privately run and how many prisons are run by the government and which of these public or private approaches produces a better job of running a financially sound prison. An analysis of the respective advantages and disadvantages of a privately operated prisons compared to government-run prisons is used to determine junctures in the provision of services as well as departures and significant differences. A discussion of the views of the U.S. Bureau of Justice concerning privately operated prisons is followed by an overall assessment of private vs. government-operated prisons, including costs to the average America tax payer to build new prisons and the profits typically generated by privately operated prisons, to identify which approach provides optimal results. A summary of the research and important findings are provided in the conclusion.

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TOPIC: Research Paper on Private Run Prisons vs. Government Run Prisons Who Does a Better Job Assignment

Over the past two decades, the costs to American taxpayers that are associated with crime control have increased at twice the rate of defense spending, and spending on corrections at the state level has increased faster than any other spending category (Mccormick, 2000). The skyrocketing costs for corrections is due in large part to the fact that the United States incarcerates far more of its citizens than almost any other country in the world, industrialized or not, and more than two million Americans are currently behind bars in federal and state institutions across the country, with California and Texas experiencing the most increase in recent years (Irwin, Schiraldi & Ziedenberg, 2000). In fact, for every 147 people in the United States, one is behind bars in a state or federal prison; this equates to a national incarceration rate of 682 per 100,000, an alarming rate that is between five to eight times comparable rates in other industrialized democracies and only slightly less than the incarceration rate for Russia (685 per 100,000), which has the highest rate in the world (Mccormick 2000). As a result, the United States not only imprisons more people than most other countries, it also has about 25% of all the prisoners in the world (Mccormick, 2000). Consequently, identifying the most cost-effective approach to the provision of corrections services has been the focus of a growing amount of research and attention from policymakers and law enforcement authorities alike. This need has become eve more important during periods of dwindling state and federal budgets for corrections even as the costs required to administer these facilities continues to increase. Making do with less may be acceptable in some commercial sectors, but there is little room for cost savings at the expense of other factors such as long-term recidivism rates, the need to provide prisons with the full complement of their rights and to do all of these things in ways that are subject to public scrutiny and official oversight.

Over the past 20 years, state expenditures on prisons and jails have increased faster than any other segment (Irwin, Schiraldi & Ziedenberg 2000). The states and the federal government fund their prison systems differently, but these funds are inevitably derived from the American taxpayer (Mccormick 2000). More troubling still, states are actually spending more to build new prisons than they are to build new educational institutions, which is a topsy-turvy set of priorities if there ever was one (Irwin et al., 2000). The costs of building enough new prisons to house the growing inmate population are substantial. For example, the South Carolina Department of Corrections estimates construction costs by facility type, in 2011 dollars for new prison construction as follows:

500-bed maximum security institution - $72.5 million ($145,000 per bed);

1,500-bed high security institution - $141 million ($94,000 per bed);

1,200-bed medium security institution - $105 million ($87,500 per bed);

192-bed minimum security housing unit (existing institution) - $9 million ($46,875 per bed) (General SCDC operations, 2012).

Given the enormity of the resources that are required for building and administering this corrections system, it is important to determine if the job private prisons are doing is really "better" in the ways it is purported. Proponents of private prisons maintain that privatization of this industry is consistent with the privatization of other sectors and is simply good business rather than a moral decision. For instance, privately operated prisons provide the same correctional services as their government-operated counterparts at reduced costs to governments, while providing better and more cost-effective services to prisoners, as well as increased security for people living in nearby communities (Campbell, Andrew & Coyle, 2003). At least this is the argument, such as it goes, but other analysts also point out that private prisons are faced with the same challenges and constraints to operating efficient correctional facilities as government-run prisons. Indeed, according to Coyle, Campbell and Neufield (2003), "Even the private prisons have been overcrowded" (p. 170).

Current incarceration rates in private prisons indicate that the private sector is doing something right. For example, Fathi (2010) reports that, "Approximately eight percent of all U.S. prisoners, and fifteen percent of federal prisoners, are housed in privately operated correctional institutions, making these facilities a significant and growing part of the correctional landscape" (p. 1454). Given this trend in privatization of the prison and corrections function that has traditionally been part of the government's responsibility, it is also important to determine if there have been any unexpected consequences that might take the shine off the private-prison glow. In fact, it turns out that there are a number of disadvantages that are only recently coming to light, due in part to the lack of transparency in the private-prison industry. For instance, Fathi emphasizes that, "Private facilities present a special oversight problem. While the profit motive may increase the temptation to cut comers on staffing, medical care, and other essential services, private prisons are subject to even less scrutiny than their public counterparts" (p. 1454). In sharp contrast to government-operated prisons, private prisons enjoy virtual autonomy in their operations. In this regard, Fathi adds that, "As private corporations, they are typically not subject to open meeting and freedom of information laws that apply to state and local departments of corrections" (2010, p. 1455).

At first blush, these issues may not appear overly important, but civil libertarians and other opponents of private prisons argue that prisoners are essentially stripped of some of their rights in private facilities compared to government-operated prisons. For example, Fathi points out that, "Moreover, private prisons are shielded from judicial oversight in significant ways. Federal prisoners may not sue private prison corporations for damages under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, two circuits have held that they may similarly not maintain a Bivens action against individual private prison employees, at least if state tort law remedies exist" (p. 1455).

Furthermore, prisoners with disabilities are also adversely affected by being incarcerated in private prisons. In this regard, Fathi notes that, "The Eleventh Circuit has recently held that private prison operators are not 'public entities' under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and therefore, unlike publicly operated prisons, cannot be sued under Title II of that statute" (2010, p. 1456). Certainly, there are other remedies available under the law for prisoners whose fundamental rights are being violated, but the fact that private prisons enjoy this type of competitive advantage at the expense of prisoners' rights is reflective of the overall different environment in which government- and private-run prison facilitate operate today. Because the private prison industry enjoys this competitive advantage, the implications for prisoners are only recently becoming known. For instance, according to Fathi (2010):

Prisoners are overwhelmingly poor and lacking in formal education; many are functionally illiterate. In all but two states, they are deprived of even that most basic instrument of political self-defense -- the vote. Their unpopularity makes it unlikely that others will come to their aid. Prisoners are the ultimate discrete and insular minority; no other group in American society is so completely disabled from defending its rights and interests. (p. 1453)

From the perspective of many victims of violent crime, these diminished rights might not seem so important, but the fact remains that prisoners are entitled to some rights in government-operated facilities that are not matched in privately operated prisons. For example, Fathi points out that, "The Standards on the Treatment of Prisoners ('Standards') is that prisoners must have access to the courts on an equal footing with all other persons" (p. 1454). In addition, the Standards "discourage the use of private prisons, at least for secure confinement: [c]ontracts with private corporations or other private entities for the operation of a secure correctional facility should be disfavored" (Fathi, 2010, p. 1454). Furthermore, the model standards for treatment also stipulate that in those circumstances where private prisons must be used,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Private Run Prisons vs. Government Run Prisons Who Does a Better Job.  (2012, November 5).  Retrieved January 18, 2022, from

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"Private Run Prisons vs. Government Run Prisons Who Does a Better Job."  5 November 2012.  Web.  18 January 2022. <>.

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"Private Run Prisons vs. Government Run Prisons Who Does a Better Job."  November 5, 2012.  Accessed January 18, 2022.