Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Private Prisons

Talking Points Memo reporter Ryan Reilly reports that:
The Huffington Post reports that the for-profit prisons giant sent letters to 48 states offering to buy up their prisons in exchange for a 20-year management contract and the guarantee that the facilities would be at least 90 percent full.

Am I the only person who sees a potential issue with a 20 year contract that guarantees that prisons will be 90% full??? Seriously???

It is one thing to argue that we can make a decent 5 year projection based on current sentencing rules. But this puts huge barriers in the way of either sentencing reforms or improvements in crime prevention. Would the best case scenario not be a series of policing and social reforms that led to less criminal activity over time?

Furthermore, isn't the reason that we reward private business because they take risk? The idea of capitalism (creative destruction) is that good ideas are rewarded with profits and bad ideas lead to business failure. A state guarantee of customers (i.e. prisoners) over the course of a reasonable mortgage on these facilities is equivalent to removing all risk. So why should there be an expectation of profit?

And none of this addresses the difficulties in regulating a private contracter to insure that prisoner rights are not violated.  After all, we trust the guards to report on violations that could extend a prison sentence; are we sure that there is no conflict of interest here? 

I am not saying that all of these concerns cannot be addressed, but the basic idea seems suspect. 

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