W.W. wrote in The Economist 24 August 2010 about The perverse incentives of private prisons:
LAST week authorities captured two fugitives who had been on the lam for three weeks after escaping from an Arizona prison. The convicts and an accomplice are accused of murdering a holiday-making married couple and stealing their camping trailer during their run from justice. This gruesome incident has raised questions about the wisdom and efficacy of private prisons, such as the one from which the Arizona convicts escaped.Arizona, the place Georgia just copied with an anti-immigrant law that will provide inmates for private prisons.
Mother Jones reporter Suzy Khimm, writing at Ezra Klein’s spot, observes that the portion of Arizona’s prison population now residing in privately owned and operated facilities is 20% and growing. “Nationally,” Ms Khimm notes, “there’s been a similar surge in private prison construction as the inmate population has tripled between 1987 and 2007: Inmates in private prisons now account for 9% of the total US prison population, up from 6% in 2000.” Should we welcome this development?Why would this ever make sense?
The dominant argument for private prisons is that they will save taxpayers money, as for-profit owners have an incentive to seek efficiencies bureaucrats overseeing government institutions lack. Anyway, that’s the theory. According to the Arizona Republic, the reality is that private prisons in the Grand Canyon State so far cost more on a per-prisoner basis than do public institutions. Some experts contend that firms in the prison business reap profits by billing government for rather more than their initial lowball estimates while scrimping in ways that may make prisons less secure.So they don’t even save money. But they do make pots of money for private prison companies and their investors. Pots of tax dollars that you and I pay for their private profit.
The writer goes on to spell out why it would actually be worse if private prisons did spend less tax money than public prisons:
From an economic point of view, we should expect firms that compete for and rely on government contracts, such as weapons manufacturers and prison operators, to maximise the spread between the amount billed and the actual cost of delivering the service. If contractors can get away with providing less value for money than would the government-run alternative, they will. Moreover, contractors have every incentive to make themselves seem necessary. It is well-known that public prison employee unions constitute a powerful constituency for tough sentencing policies that lead to larger prison populations requiring additional prisons and personnel. The great hazard of contracting out incarceration “services” is that private firms may well turn out to be even more efficient and effective than unions in lobbying for policies that would increase prison populations.Policies like the anti-immigrant law Georgia just passed. Policies which would be even worse if private prison companies could accurately claim to save money.
Does the writer’s warning sound familiar? A very similar warning was sounded back in 1961:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.We didn’t listen well enough to president Eisenhower back then and now we spend more than the next ten nations combined on the military. Do we really want to make the same mistake with the prison-industrial complex? We already imprison more people than any other country in the world (per capita and total). Do we now want to lock ourselves into that failed pattern by handing it over to private profit?
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.
As the writer concludes:
it is hard to see the expansion of a for-profit industry with a permanent interest in putting ever more people in cages as consistent with either efficiency or justice.Justice shouldn’t be for private profit at public expense.
We don’t need to spend tax money on a private prison in Lowndes County especially when our schools are failing.