Privatization Issues in Corrections
Privatization occurs in both federal and state prisons. Privatization takes place when a private, for-profit company is contracted by a government agency and provides the detention center as well as healthcare, meals and maintenance. In recent decades there has been a push to privatize prisons and jails in order to reduce cost. This is a controversial area of thought due to the fact that companies do not have the same vested interest in justice and protecting society as public service workers. This opposition to privatization is answered by proponents who claim that privatization is less expensive and can be governed by placing regulations on the industry the same as any other business. An examination of these arguments reflects that there are some serious considerations that need to be addressed in the privatization of corrections facilities.
One of the major arguments raised by the US Department of Justice is the fact that when the object of criminal justice becomes focused on making money, then this can create conflicts of interest as well as unethical situations. This problem with privatization has a large amount of evidence to support it. Historically, whenever private firms come into play with the justice system there is negative consequences (Department of Justice, 2001). Throughout the 1800s and early 1900s, prisons were frequently a source of corruption due to companies being involved with using prisoners as laborers (Department of Justice, 2001). Prison wardens and administrators frequently used prisoners for contract labor (Department of Justice, 2001). Similarly, in 2011 a privatized prison company was providing kickbacks to a judge in order to fill beds in the facility whether kids deserved to be there or not (Pavlo, 2011).
Another issue raised by the Justice Department is the fact that most private prisons are designed with cost cutting strategies rather than the long term goals of rehabilitation. Ultimately, a private prison is more at risk of creating larger long term recidivism rates due to the fact that these companies profit by housing prisoners- it is not in the interest of private prisons to rehabilitate.
Proponents of privatization cite many benefits for both prisoners and the public. According to Harding (1997), privatization has a profound impact on the way prisons are operated and maintained. In most instances, private prisons outperform federal and state prisons. Private prisons are more efficient and because they are newer there are not serious issues with the physical facilities as there are in many old state-run prisons (Harding, 1997). Private prisons have greater external regulations as well compared with state and federal prisons due to having to follow more regulations such as health department and healthcare laws (Harding, 1997). According to Harding, conflicts of interest are not as a large of a problem as it would appear and these issues can be regulated the same as other businesses (Harding, 1997).
In an effort to ensure that privatization works in the interest of the public. Private prison companies have formed the American Correctional Association (ACA). This association was formed to ensure the prisons followed certain standards for prisoner treatment and the maintenance of prisons. The accreditation of the ACA aims to provide a seal of approval of corrections systems and intends to boost professionalism, safety and to assure that facilities are in line with national standards. In order to become approved by the ACA, one must follow the following steps, pre-accreditation assessment, application status, correspondent status, standards compliance audit, accreditation hearing, accredited status and re-accreditation. This is a way in which facilities can be judged and deemed to be following, below or exceeding standards.
While the ACA appears to be a good means of ensuring standards for prisons, this accreditation is problematic because the ACA is funded by private prisons (Department of Justice, 2001). In some instances, facilities that have been accredited were found to have abusive environments and poor living conditions (Department of Justice, 2001). In order to plan for better correctional officer professionalization and accreditation, there should be standards that ACA must meet and a national organization that has guidelines for allowing accreditation. In order to maintain an accreditation system with integrity, routine inspection should be involved and funding for the accrediting company should not be linked or influenced in anyway like it is currently (Department of Justice, 2001).
Despite these incidents, private prisons almost always have higher standards and outperform state prisons (Harding, 1997). From analyzing both sides of the privatization issue, one can see that there are many benefits to privatization but significant oversight may be needed to make the system work in the long term. It is likely that privatization will continue due to the enormous cost of prisons and while this trend continues it would be prudent to create regulatory guidelines for privatization.
Department of Justice. (2001). Emerging Issues on Privatized Prisons. Retrieved from US Department of Justice: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/bja/181249.pdf
Harding, R. W. (1997). Private Prisons and Public Accountability. Open University Press (4), 32–55.
Pavlo, W. (2011, August 12). Pennsylvania Judge Gets ‘Life Sentence’ For Prison Kickback Scheme. (Forbes, Producer) Retrieved from Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/walterpavlo/2011/08/12/pennsylvania-judge-gets-life-sentence-for-prison-kickback-scheme/