The rise of Private Prisons
The main aim of correctional education and prison time is to reform criminals and offenders so as to prevent them from making their previous mistakes and reform them into respectable citizens of the society. Prisons all over America work round the clock to house thousands of inmates and help in the seamless functioning of prison reform programs. However, the latest drop in the economy brought an unprecedented danger to this administration structure: budget cuts in various department made it difficult for many programs to run. Facilities ran out of space to house new inmates. Educational and vocational programs started suffering with underfunding, and the insecurity of the job resulted in the reduction of the workforce.
The rise of Private Prisons
In a scenario that was increasingly turning from bad to dismal, private prisons came as welcome change. Unlike public correctional facilities that are governmental jurisdiction, private prisons are owned by separate organizations, which often use federal contracts to grow.
Where private sector used to employ prisoners for labour in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, it now finances major correctional facilities for prisons. These include education, prison management, jail construction, staffing and so on. Among these, over half of the private prison facilities in America are owned by two major corporations: the Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group CITATION Sie141 l 16393 (Siegel & Bartollas, 2014).
The movement for private prisons caught wind during Gary Johnson’s run for the mayor of New Mexico. He was among the first to move towards privatizing prisons by saying that he would do so for every prison in the state. By the time he left office, 44.2% of all facilities in the state had been brought under the private sector CITATION Sie141 l 16393 (Siegel & Bartollas, 2014).
One of the major boosts in the rise of private prisons came with the opening of Ohio’s first such facility. With the aim of saving 1.6 million dollars a year, the prison helped raise the number of privately incarcerated inmates from 0 to three thousand in a span of ten years. As of late, states such as Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire and Arizona are considering expanding or beginning private prison programs CITATION Sie141 l 16393 (Siegel & Bartollas, 2014).
However, there were also some setbacks in the process of privatizing prisons. Critics of the process make sure to point out North Carolina that cancelled two of its contracts with Correctional Corporation of America, due to their failure of keeping fulfilling contractual requirements. The state also banned the transport of prisoners from outside its boundaries, thus keeping the justice system private. Later, the state of California also levied a similar ban. Another incident dates back to 2004, when the Governor of Nevada, Kenny Guinn, cancelled the state’s contract with CCA because of the revelation that the company had used substandard materials in the construction of the private prison CITATION Sie141 l 16393 (Siegel & Bartollas, 2014).
However, the movement supporting private prisons was backed yet again in 2004 by Vermont, who agreed to transport prisoners out of state to private prisons in Kentucky and Tennessee. This provided a major boost to the institution itself, as the number of prisoners incarcerated in private facilities jumped from zero percent in the year 2003 to over twenty in 2004. Proceeding the development, Vermont housed almost 34% of its prisoners in private facilities in 2008, until the number declined to 27% in the year 2010 CITATION Sie141 l 16393 (Siegel & Bartollas, 2014).
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Private Prisons: an Overview
Siegel and Bartollas, in their book, Corrections Today, list the scores of private persons with respect to public ones where various aspects are concerned. On operational grounds, private prisons scored lower than their public counterparts. This was attributed to the fact that most private companies, in order to cut corners, did not provide adequate training to employees working in such facilities. However, private prison staff rated higher when tested for commitment to work. Private prisons also had higher turnover as compared to public prisons CITATION Sie141 l 16393 (Siegel & Bartollas, 2014).
However, daily facilities and healthcare, as reported by inmates of the private prison were not up to the mark. There were also more incidents of violence and drug use in private prisons. Security and gang activity levels, however, were almost the same in both CITATION Sie141 l 16393 (Siegel & Bartollas, 2014).
Those who stand for the privatization of prions across the country call it a cost-effective measure: it takes the burden off of the government, and provides additional support at lesser prices. They are newer, more technologically advances and less crowded than conventional prisons CITATION Kir10 l 16393 (Kirchhoff, 2010). Additionally, private companies work faster than public ones because they do not have to go through the hundreds of legal duties that bog their public counterparts down. Thus, they can get work done at a quick pace. CITATION Aus01 l 16393 (Austin & Coventry, 2001).
Those criticizing the private sector’s role in prison administration argue that incarceration and punishment are solely a government enterprise. Involving the private sector in the act aids their ulterior incentives to increase profits by what is meant for the reform of needy citizens CITATION Kir10 l 16393 (Kirchhoff, 2010).
There have also been numerous questions raised about the quality of security provided by private prisons. One major exhibit to support the same is the incident of the escape of six convicts from a Corrections Corporation of America prison. The rising number of deaths in private prisons, as well as the number of lawsuits as well, have put under scrutiny the quality of care and facilities being provided to inmates under the supposed pretext of better reformation and care CITATION Kir10 l 16393 (Kirchhoff, 2010).
A report by the Department of Justice found three major differences between the functioning of private and public prisons. Firstly, private prisons had a lower staff-to-inmate ratios, which means that as compared to a guard or a manager in a public prison, one from a private facility would have to oversee fewer inmates at any point of time CITATION Aus01 l 16393 (Austin & Coventry, 2001).
Secondly, private prisons have less sophisticated information management system. Lastly, the occurrence of serious incidents, such as inmate violence, suicide and other related incidents was higher in private facilities than in public ones CITATION Aus01 l 16393 (Austin & Coventry, 2001).
Cost effectiveness: The Department of Justice report found that unlike the 20% profit that had been projected by many advocating the cost effectiveness of private prisons, the actual average savings from building and utilizing private prisons were only about 1% due to lower labour costs. Thus, cost savings were not much better than that of public prisons. However, the study also found that private companies were better equipped to build prisons faster and cheaper and that the prospect of involving private companies into the cycle made administrator more open to reforms CITATION Aus01 l 16393 (Austin & Coventry, 2001). Another study by Vanderbilt University found that private companies provide largely similar outcomes for less money CITATION Blu08 l 16393 (Blumstein, Cohen, & Seth, 2008).
Other analysts of the cost-effectiveness of private prisons argue that the number and data vary from state to state, and only depends on its policies. States often save money by contracting out the construction of new prisons to private companies, since they employ workers at lower wages and do not provide as many additional benefits as public companies. Others may also clinch the spending by opting to send their prisoners to private facilities situated outside the state, which ultimately eliminates the cost of building an entirely new one CITATION Kir10 l 16393 (Kirchhoff, 2010).
Another factor vouching for the cost-effectiveness of private companies is that private companies do not hire union labour. Thus, they create jobs and income opportunities for people in the places where they set up shop. These include an increase in the supply and demand ratio, booming of local businesses, and individual labour CITATION Aus01 l 16393 (Austin & Coventry, 2001), thus proving beneficial for the local economy.
The Debate over Privatization
There have been numerous points put forward in the debate on whether one should privatize prisons. Cunningham provided an important insight by condensing it into reasons for and against.
Why should prisons be privatized?
Firstly, when compared to public contractors who go in for more conventional designs and layouts, private contractors are better equipped to provide better and efficient designs, with provisions for state of the art facilities. They are also able to mobilize faster than public sector companies. Many private clients also specialize in building specific kinds of prisons, and can thus provide advice and inputs on how to improve and incorporate changes if any. Additionally, the time required to construct a new facility is also almost half of what a public contractor requires CITATION Cun99 l 16393 (Cunningham, 1999).
The cost saving incentives are a major factor for the government giving out contracts to private clients. Since a private project is aimed at cost efficiency while at the same time providing maximum benefits, governments can pay only for what they require, which is based on the number of inmates intended to be housed in the facility and other additions. Furthermore, private facilities, in order to minimize spending provide a lot of local employment, and thus better economic improvement facilities. For the construction of a private facility, the company will prefer to purchase materials from local stores, and hire from the immediate workforce CITATION Cun99 l 16393 (Cunningham, 1999).
Additionally, there is considerably less paperwork involved in hiring a private client. There is only company that the government needs to talk to for all their compliance issue needs. The private client, being sole in charge of construction, takes upon itself to get past the red tape CITATION Cun99 l 16393 (Cunningham, 1999).
Hiring private contractors also takes a generous amount of pressure off the government. By having the private company as the only point of contact in the project, the government can reduce its chances of liability for any issues. Furthermore, not only does the process provide flexibility in terms of the time window and construction, it also promotes healthy competition between the two sectors of the economy CITATION Cun99 l 16393 (Cunningham, 1999).
Why should we not privatize prisons?
On the other hand, responsibilities of grave civic importance, such as environment, public safety and so on, should only be handled by the government. Only the government has jurisdiction over incarcerating people on legal, moral, and other grounds. Due to the intense competition between private and public sectors to gain as many contracts as possible, required measures for safety, health and care might be compromised with CITATION Cun99 l 16393 (Cunningham, 1999).
Additionally, the number of private companies equipped with handling major assignments like these is relatively few. As mentioned, more than half of the contracts for constructing private prisons are handled by the two major players of the industry, namely, The Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO. Furthermore, most private companies do not owe their allegiance to the government, but to another political body, which may eventually monopolize the project CITATION Cun99 l 16393 (Cunningham, 1999).
Another issue rises where the familiarity of private owners with correctional facilities and prisons is concerned. The primary motive behind the construction of a prison can only be understood by one who is familiar with the criminal justice system of the country. Such an owner will also understand the necessary requisites based on the number of intended inmates, staff, and facilities and so on CITATION Cun99 l 16393 (Cunningham, 1999).
Additionally, the motive of making a profit, wherever possible will hamper the performance of the workers. Since private companies have incentives that they can use as leverage to save money, there is a considerably less chance of compromise with the quality of the work provided CITATION Cun99 l 16393 (Cunningham, 1999).
Furthermore, since formulating a clear, good contract is a complicated task, obtaining the contract itself it a hard nut to crack CITATION Cun99 l 16393 (Cunningham, 1999).
Quality of confinement in Private Prisons as compared to Public Prisons
The debate on whether the quality of confinement in private prisons is better than that of public prisons has been a bone of contention between authorities for a long time. Despite the many studies conducted on the subject, the results have been inconclusive.
This is mainly because every state has a different way of treating prisons and their inmates, based on their rhetoric of priorities and resources. Some want to better the quality of incarceration by providing additional measures and ways, whereas others simply do not have the funds or the intention to do so.
Except for the areas of safety and order and care, facilities in private prisons were almost as good as the ones in public prisons. In terms of safety though, the scale went lower. The quality of safety provided by private prisons often matched, but sometimes went lower than that of public ones. On the other hand, the state of order and care in most private prisons was equal, if not better, than that of public facilities CITATION Per03 l 16393 (Perrone & Pratt, 2003).
Often, the pressure to manage the cost of management and building becomes a major factor in the aid of security incidents in private prisons. Since private companies aim to save costs wherever possible, they employ workers at lower rates, with lesser benefits than are awarded employees of the government. Additionally, officers employed by the prisons themselves also fall prey to the game of saving money. There will be a stark difference in the amount of education and training meted to a privately employed guard and publically employed one. These employees will know lesser about handling inmate problems and behaviours. They will also be inadequately equipped to act appropriately in cases of serious emergencies like inmate fights CITATION Mas12 l 16393 (Mason, 2012).
This compromise with quality for the sake of costs often results in an upturning of security at private prisons. Some major examples include the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility, which came under investigation after receiving numerous complaints of brutality against inmates. The federal lawsuit that compromised the facility also claimed that inmates in the facility lived in inhumane conditions and had to struggle to ensure safety and security. Another example comes from a CCA facility in Florida, where, in May 2011, a psychiatrist was accused of having asked numerous female inmates to strip and give him lap dances. The lawsuit against him also alleged that he offered to provide several inmates medication in exchange for sexual favours CITATION Mas12 l 16393 (Mason, 2012).
On several occasions, private facilities have also been found compromising with the quality of healthcare provided to inmates. In a related incident in 2001, a grand jury in Florida found a nurse employed by a CCA private prison unable to administer basic healthcare. The prison’s negligence had ultimately led to the death of an inmate who had swallowed several pills of the drug, Ecstasy CITATION Mas12 l 16393 (Mason, 2012).
The report by the Department of Justice also brought forward a pressing issue when it comes to employee wages in private prisons. Since personnel in private prisons are paid on the number of inmates housed, it becomes imperative for them to keep bed spaces filled. The motive for profit may drive some personnel to keep inmates incarcerated for longer than necessary in order to get higher pay. Moreover, private companies with the incentive of profit in mind may also lobby for longer imprisonments for inmates, thus obstructing the rightful process of justice CITATION Aus01 l 16393 (Austin & Coventry, 2001).
Several studies, however, advocate for the quality of care provided by private facilities by showing them to be at par with that of public facilities. A Kentucky study showed that employees of private prisons took the same amount of sick leaves as those at a public prison. Another study in New Mexico found private prison employees to be in better states of mental health than public facility employees CITATION Per03 l 16393 (Perrone & Pratt, 2003).
The inconsistency in results, however, cannot be attributed solely to private or public ownership entirely. One of the major reasons why managerial results differ is because of the individual temperaments of the people working in the prison. Additionally, the methodology adopted by many studies is riddled with loopholes. Most studies are conducted in the form of case studies that compare one or two private facilities. In order to achieve significant results, one needs to take a larger sample size than that. Additionally, the quality of tests applied and data collection methods make a lot of difference to the result of the study CITATION Per03 l 16393 (Perrone & Pratt, 2003).
Thus, there has been no study to prove concretely that private institutions are better than public ones. The studies are simply too diverse and scattered in their ways of treatment and data collection. To reach a conclusion. Therefore, one needs to employ better methods of research and a tactical approach to data analysis and arrangement CITATION Per03 l 16393 (Perrone & Pratt, 2003).
One of the major sides of the debate between private and public sectors has been the cost effectiveness of the former. Private prisons are supposed to be a cheaper venture than ones, not only in terms of construction, but also considering staff employment, management, and other aspects.
A study by Sellers found private prisons to be cheaper by anywhere between $4 to $30 when compared to their public counterparts CITATION Sel89 l 16393 (Sellers, 1989). According to a study by OPPAGA, a Florida prison facility was found to be almost a dollar and a half cheaper than public prisons when comparing the costs of inmate per day CITATION Off98 l 16393 (Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, 1998). Another surprising saving cost was brought forward by Thomas in his study, when he found that private prisons saved up to $7.18 more than their public counterparts on a per inmate per day average cost basis CITATION Tho97 l 16393 (Thomas C. , 1997).
There is no doubt, however, that private prisons provide faster services in a limited amount of time. With the increasing number of inmates in public prisons, there is an urgent need to house prisoners without overcrowding facilities and compromising with the supplies of the already understaffed and underfunded systems.
Since private companies are not chained down by the government necessities for approval for various steps, such as neighbourhood assessment, environmental impact and so on, they can get the work done faster in a limited amount of time. What a public company would build in five to six years; a private one can complete in two or three CITATION Aus01 l 16393 (Austin & Coventry, 2001).
Many critics and analysts have supported the privatisation of prisons on grounds that they can reduce the costs of operation dramatically. That is, they provide the conventional services of public prisons for lesser costs. The costs are controlled by opting for any one of the following options: companies either reduce the amount of the workforce or the wages for individual labours. In most cases, though, private companies provide lesser fringe benefits than public ones CITATION Aus01 l 16393 (Austin & Coventry, 2001).
In fact, this cost cutting is one of the major incentives for the government to encourage the construction of more and more private prisons. Prisons on the whole are extremely labour centric. There is a dire need for officials to monitor prisoners round the clock and oversee the seamless functioning of all administration. Thus, most of the funding received by prisons constitutes the staff’s salaries, wages, bonuses and benefits. Cutting costs, therefore, becomes increasingly difficult in public and government facilitated organizations, for they hire union labours who are averse to having money being taken from their pockets. As opposed to this scenario, private companies hire non-union labours, who work for a lesser or equal wage, but with considerably fewer benefits CITATION Aus01 l 16393 (Austin & Coventry, 2001).
Additionally, private companies in charge of constructing prisons create jobs in the immediate area where the project is to be undertaken. Since they do not hire union labours from the government, they create a space for good and experienced labour. Thus, the impact on the economy of immediate community is positive.
However, there are certain studies that have found that there is no significant difference between the savings in a private prison and a public prison. A study by the Urban Institute found that private prisons are more expensive than public prisons by almost three dollars per inmate CITATION Urb85 l 16393 (Urban Institute , 1985).
Another factor that presents itself with time is the need for monitoring contractual performance. While this may be manageable in the early stages of contractual approval, it may become cumbersome and extremely expensive over time, especially for a private company trying to cut down on costs. Not only the contractor but the cost may also be a cause of concern for the government, whose responsibility it is to monitor the project through federal agencies CITATION Aus01 l 16393 (Austin & Coventry, 2001).
Legal issues with Private Prisons
Another major bone of contention between critics and supporters is the legal jurisdiction of private prisons. These mainly extend to three fields, namely, the interference of private companies with state affairs, liability for actions, and rights of the inmates and proper procedures.
Walker in his writing delineates on the issue and says that the contracting the care of convicted offenders to private owners, who may be motivated by making a profit out of the nation’s criminal justice system, is hardly fair. The primary aim of the correctional system is to reform inmates and re-introduce them to society by encouraging them to modify their behaviour. This may not be possible when staffers in a private prison lobby the system to keep inmates housed for as long as possible, solely because of higher wages CITATION Wal94 l 16393 (Walker, 1994).
As far as liability for actions is concerned, private prisons have nearly the same managerial jurisdiction as public ones. However, this does not imply that the government may be rid of responsibility by assigning all supervisory tasks to private agencies. Therefore, based on the numerous incidents of prison violence and compromised health care brought forward in private facilities, the government would be held responsible for any discrepancies found in the functioning of private facilities CITATION Sch98 l 16393 (Schosser, 1998) CITATION Cla98 l 16393 (Clark, 1998) .
The view on whether private facilities compromise the rights of inmates is undetermined. Although the Constitution of America protects inmates under the fifth and the fourteenth amendments, the vast support for inmate rights has induced many prisons to work under boundaries and alter their functionality. However, it remains uncertain whether private prisons will be able to work under the same duress CITATION Tho91 l 16393 (Thomas C. , 1991).
No matter how long the debate between the advocates of private prisons and public facilities lasts, there is no denying that they do take the pressure off of the government. Regardless, if one is to reach a definite conclusion on the topic, one needs to find better methods of research to look into the subject. Based on the numerous journal article referenced and used in this paper, there emerges a pattern in the kind of research being conducted on private and public prisons.
The referenced articles present views on very specific questions, which further analyse results based on data and numbers obtained from correctional facilities. Surveys and studies conducted are usually financed by advocates or by government agencies, and often fall prey to prejudice. Additionally, most of the research conducted is in the format of a case study and take very small sample sizes. This is a major issue for concern, as a general opinion about the quality of care and confinement in any prison, and not just a private one, can be judged by conducting research on one or two facilities. There is an increasing need for a comprehensive rhetoric on which to judge these prisons, and on which to form concrete results.
Articles like these, however, may provide incredibly useful to provide insight into methods of research. They may not only help in reaching conclusions regarding the topic, but also influence policy makers’ decisions based on the data provided. As recommended by Perrone and Pratt, there is a dire need to abandon the case study method. Researchers and individuals need to realize the impact of different aspects. Additionally, they should work on localized questions, and not general statements. How would the prison construction impact the immediate economy and community in case of a private owner and a public owner? How has the response been towards facilities that are already present in the area? How did people react initially to the facility, and has anything changed?
As far as the staff is concerned, inquiring into only wages, benefits, and other incentives is not enough. A total, detailed, and comprehensive workup of the entire employee performance and profile is necessary. What is the employee satisfaction rate? Does the difference in ownership and management influence the relationships between employees and inmates in any way? If so, is there a consistent pattern that provides significant evidence towards contributing an answer to the debate between the quality of private and public prisons?
Thus, formulating concrete questions that ask for decidedly statistical data is necessary. The field of correctional treatment is vast and unpredictable. Not only are there psychological factors involved, but legal and procedural implications involved as well. An all-round assessment is what the situation calls for.
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