In the past few decades, numerous state and local governments in the U.S. have turned to private prisons, which run corrections as a business. It is asserted that they make incarcerating the nation’s inmates more efficient, but critics contend that is far from the case.
U.S. houses the most prisoners
The United States jails more people than any other nation in the world. According to MSNBC, the 2.3 million American inmates outnumber the prison populations of Russia and China combined. In 2007, $74 billion was spent on corrections, according to the most recent figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Prison spending, according to CNN, has grown by 127 percent in the past 20 years. A quarter of the world’s prison population is imprisoned in America.
8 percent of inmates in private prisons
In order to try to curb these costs, more American prisoners are being put in private prisons. About 8 percent of inmates, or about 130,000 people are held in private prisons nationwide. From the year 2000 to 2007, the number of privately held inmates grew by 14 percent, according to CNN, and 6 percent from 2009 to 2010. According to NPR, $3 billion per year is spent nationally on privately run prisons.
No agreement on savings
As an article in The Economist points out, the term “private” is misleading; private prisons are contractors paid with public dollars. The idea is that a privately run prison is more efficient than a government-run prison because of the lack of bureaucracy. However, according to the New York Times, a study by the Arizona Department of Corrections found that while some private facilities had costs similar to state facilities, others cost up to $1,600 per day more than state prisons. The study also found private prisons were “cherry picking” inmates with fewer health problems, leaving the burden of providing health care to state prisons. A 2007 study by the University of Utah concluded savings were “minimal at best” in private prisons.
According to CNN, studies have shown that private prisons can save about $5 per inmate per day, but many of those studies are commissioned or prepared by the private prison industry. According to MSNBC, a large part of the savings comes from paying private prison guards less because they are non-union.
Studies by federal authorities found incidents of assault were up to 65 percent more common in private correctional facilities than state facilities. According to the Tuscon Citizen, assaults on staff were 49 percent more common.
The Corrections Corporation of America recently settled a lawsuit with the ACLU over assaults at its Idaho Correctional Center facility near Boise, according to the Idaho State Journal. The suit was settled before gaining class-action status. The facility was nicknamed “Gladiator School” because of the high number of violent incidents. The CCA has a history of being sued, according to AlterNet. At least one settlement with inmates totaled $1.6 million.
Bureau of Justice Statistics: http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/glance/tables/exptyptab.cfm
The Economist: http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2010/08/private_prisons
New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/19/us/19prisons.html?pagewanted=all
Tuscon Citizen: http://tucsoncitizen.com/cell-out-arizona/2011/07/12/arizona-doesn%E2%80%99t-need-can%E2%80%99t-afford-more-private-prisons/
Idaho State Journal: http://www.idahostatejournal.com/news/state/article_3ff9cf8a-e419-11e0-8825-001cc4c03286.html
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