Prison Privitisation



Privatization in Corrections

Privatization in corrections is a trend that is assuming increasing significance. Pratt and Maahs, characterizing privatization in corrections as “a growth industry go on to note: “Rooted primarily in the political and economic context of the 1980s. The movement to privatize public services has received increasing support in response to taxpayer demands that government provide more services with fewer resources. Advocates of correctional privatization often argue from a ‘public choice’ theoretical perspective… holding that private entities can provide correctional services at a lower cost than governmental agencies. At best, however, the empirical evidence for this claim- - the efficiency hypothesis- - remains inconclusive” (1999, 358.)
The practice of privatization has received its share of criticism, with concern being expressed over the possibility of prison conditions’ deteriorating as the result of an effort to save money on the part of government. “Coercive confinement carries with it an obligation to meet the basic need of the prisoner, “ notes Logan in this regard. “Thus, measures of health care, safety, sanitation, nutrition, and other aspects of basic living conditions are relevant. Furthermore, confinement must meet a constitutional standard of fairness and due process, so it is not just the effectiveness and efficiency, but also the procedural justice with which confinement is imposed that is important.” This author goes on to characterize confinement as” much more than just warehousing” (Logan, 1992, 579.)
The goal of confinement should be, instead, to promote the rehabilitation of prisoners and ensure that they are housed in decent and humane conditions. No one expects a prison to be a Holiday Inn, but all authorities agree that unless prisoners are assured a decent standard of living, as well as education and, job training, rehabilitation cannot take place. Logan is among those observers of privatization who contend “ it is reasonable and realistic to expect high quality from commercially contracted prisons.” This author, citing the example of privatization in New Mexico, maintains that privatization can promote factors necessary for effective prison management. These factors include: “1) a well-designed facility, 2) greater operational and administrative flexibility, 3) decentralized authority, 4) higher morale, enthusiasm, and sense of ownership among the staff, 5) greater experience and leadership among the top administrators, and 6) ‘by the book’ governance of inmates” (1992, 613).
In tracing the circumstances under which privatization arose, Pratt and Maahs observe: “ Until recently, public officials were reluctant to privatize entire correctional institutions. Since the early 1980s, however, two major development have forced policy makers to reconsider the option of private prison management: (1) the perception of the deteriorating conditions of public prisoners and, more importantly, (2) prison crowding” (1999, 359).
Thus, the need for commercial management of prisons arose not only to effect savings but to improve the conditions of confinement. Louisiana was one of many states which, during the 1980s, was faced with the problem of prison overcrowding an experiment, whereby it built three prisons of similar size and design and housed them with the same type of inmates, one to be managed by the State Department of Public Safety and Corrections, and the other two turned over to private bodies that contracted to provide services. “In effect, the State of Louisiana created a field experimental laboratory for the study privately versus publicly operated prisons,” writes Archambeault, “…a series of monthly or quarterly reports covering various aspects of prisons operations. These reports were also intended to provide information to the Federal Court of Judge Frank Poloza, allowing the monitoring of prison safety in Louisiana prisons” (5).
The result of the comparison suggested the greater effectiveness of private correctional suggested the greater effectiveness of private correctional facilities in Louisiana according to a number of criteria. Thus, private correctional facilities, as compared with the state prison, were found: “ To be significantly more cost-effective by operating by between 11.6 to 13.85% less, based on the averaged cost $23.49, and Avoyelles (the state facility) cost $26.60. Similar differences were found for each fiscal year as when examined separately.” In addition, private facilities were found more satisfactory on the following key indicators.
“To report statistically fewer critical incidents. In fact, Allen and Wind were found not be statistically high on any of the thirteen critical incident measures. Ayoyelles was found to be statistically