Prison Administration Systems in the United States


The role of prison administration is to confine people arrested either before or after court rulings. The system entails putting suspects and those indicted for committing crimes under confinements in state prisons, private jails, house arrests, and other types of prisons. The penitentiary system is a debatable issue in America. There are people caught in philosophical reveries and think the system is a necessity to offering philanthropy.

On the other hand, there are those who think the establishment of the penitentiary system is the root cause of evil deeds in society. Thus, the systems exist because there will always be criminals in society. America is moving from the conventional public administration of prisons to privatization. This essay looks at the pros and cons of private and public systems of corrections administration in a bid to draw a meaningful conclusion about a system that best suits society.

Management of Correctional Administration by Private Sector

Prison services basically require formidable and justifiable means of management so as to institute discipline in society. The running of penitentiary systems has been the responsibility of government as bestowed by civilians and backed by the constitution. The U.S government has developed legislation to facilitate this privatization by empowering various bodies to initiate the programs. In recent times, the privatization of institutions to run the system has taken effect.

Legal harmonization of the process took center stage with the aim of providing guidelines of running the prison sector. Privatization of the sector has brought in new strategies of dealing with crime other than the usual punishment as a strategy for correcting criminal offenders. Privatization has brought in the concept of economic gain from incarceration of criminals. The new pattern aims at rectifying the loop holes that were created by public prisons, (Sycamnias, 2010).

The concept of privatization may be seen as a new approach; but in reality, it started in the 19th century when the US government contracted private institutions to run the New York and Louisiana penitentiaries. Successful bidders who were contracted then sought for services of inmates and other business owners for labor. Privatization did not hold for a long period of time as corruption cases became eminent. In addition, there was a claim by other entrepreneurs that the system gave the chosen private prison management unfair competitive advantage. This is because they used inmate as the main source of labor at cheap costs.

That was then and now; there is a change of perception of privatization of prison services because of new models with good structures that counter-check the conditions that made the earlier system unpopular. “Sometimes these conditions, coupled with the inability of administrators to respond to inmate needs, spark collective violence, as in the riots at Attica, New York (1971); Santa Fe, New Mexico (1980). (Clear et al, 2008).

Advantages and Disadvantages of Privatization of Correctional Administration

The first advantage of privatization of the penitentiary system is that it has led to massive cost reduction in running correctional administrations. There has been a significant rise in the cost of running penitentiary systems, and the need to curb this hurdle has prompted privatization. “During 1993, it was estimated to cost over six billion dollars a year in construction. This figure did not include the cost of employing fifty thousand guards, or the additional tens of thousands of administrators, health, education and food,” (Sycamnias, 2010). Also, through privatization, the associated cost of running the system would not come from tax revenue collected from public coffers. This either lessens the tax burden on civilians or means that the monetary allocation intended for the prison services can be redirected to other development programs.

The main objective of private management is to cut costs at all levels. This concept will be beneficial as a waste reduction strategy and high productivity rate in order for private management to remain competitive and sustainable. “Studies of the Wackenhut and CCA institutions have noted savings of twenty percent off construction, and five to fifteen percent off management costs,” (Sycamnias, 2010). Despite activists’ claims that privately run institutions will lead to poor services resulting from cost cutting measure, the author asserts that interviews with inmates and prison staffs reveal that they are satisfied with privately run prisons.

Economic opportunity that can arise through privatization of prison institutions is the fact that they are money driven. This has made private firm to indulge in economic activities like manufacturing; whose, manpower is majorly provided by inmates. Prisoners engaged in such activities will raise money and gain work experience that would be beneficial to an inmate once he/she gets back in the public domain.

This is the most crucial step in the rehabilitation of criminal offenders because a prisoner is given an alternative means of earning a living. Moreover, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) undertaken by private corporations benefits the surrounding community. The same concept has been applied in the public penitentiaries but the level of success of privately run institutions in this field is unmatched by public institutions.

Another advantage of privatizing this sector lies in the flexibility of privately managed firms. The world continues to experience the development of various sectors, for instance the ICT sector, and the opportunities created by such avenues can be readily implemented by private institutions. Moreover, privatized firms are sensitive to innovative ideas, flexible promotion, demotion and termination of employees as compared to publicly run institutions. Technological changes that can be adopted by private institution can significantly reduce cases of prison breaks, curbing riots and malpractices witnessed in penitentiaries. “Incidences like those that took place at the Prince George County (U.S.A), where eleven prisoners where mistakenly released, have never happened in private institutions.” (Sycamnias, 2010).

Privatization of the penitentiary system also has its own disadvantages because critics of the system have questioned its credibility. The prime mover of private deals it to make economic gains. Due to this, other private firms may invest as financial backers to institutions that run prison services and this may lead to conflict of interest. The purpose of penitentiary system is to provide character rehabilitation and reduce crime rate in the society. Since reduced crime rate is directly proportional to reduced monetary gain, administrators of privatized prisons would be tempted to retain a rehabilitated inmate who is of economic benefit. This is a serious case of injustice to an inmate because his/her right is abused.

Other opponents of privatization of the penitentiary system believe that such a move will lead to low biding of potential contractors so as to lure government administration to approve tenders. Upon approval, firms are bound to either increase their costs to higher figures or run bankrupt after taking responsibility. This condition may put the federal government in a discomfited position in regard to provision of correctional facilities. When private firms are engaged in under-biding, in the real sense, there will be no firm that would raise its fee higher than the profit margin could support without attracting the attention of new entrants into competition.

Management of Correctional Administration by Public Sector

Safety of the American citizens and inmates are two key issues that correctional systems are set up the safeguard. The credibility of public prisons is higher as compared to privatization of the correctional systems. The motives of public prison administration are not for economic gain but rather as a service to the nation and sponsored by public funds. When the two systems are compared, public prisons stand on some positive grounds; though, it is not 100% blameless. Public administration of penitentiary systems has its own demerits.

National safety of the American people rests assured in public administration of the prison services. Guards and other servicemen found in public prisons are experienced and their number is adequate to curb against outbreak of incidents in prisons. The level of safety in public jails super cedes those of private prisons. Prison breaks are common among private penitentiary systems and to curb this kind of unlawfulness, safety lies in the public wing. This statement is supported by a study conducted by Reason Public Policy Institute that, “Government run prisons have fewer escapes, less substance abuse and greater recreational and rehabilitation measures in place,” (Moore, 1998).

Secondly, justice is assured in public prisons because courts and the judicial system are run by state. It is hard to separate judicial system from prison; therefore for justice to be done, it would be fair for convicts to be tried and jailed by public institutions. Trial and imprisonment go together and a system that does mixes them in liable to some legislative loops holes. Contrarily, the major problem associated with public prisons is service efficiency. Due to economic insensitivity and lack of adequate funds to improve services, it has been hard to manage prisoners adequately; more so, with the increasing number of inmates.


Stringent measures that can rectify vulnerability of privatized system need to be set up. One suggestion towards realization of this successful privatization is to have non-profit private organizations to run the penitentiary systems. However, no such plans have been considered by the administration for adoption. The fact that such institutions are able to provide privatized services without aim of making profit, will minimize the potential problems associated with privatization as highlighted in the discussion above. Otherwise, it will be totally unsafe to leave the entire service sector on the hands of private institutions. This is the reason why in America there are still more public prisons than private penitentiaries.


Clear, T.R., Cole, G.F., and Reisig, M.D. (2008). American Corrections. 8th edn. Washington, DC: Cengage Learning.

Moore, A. T. (1998). “Private Prisons: Quality Corrections at a Lower Cost.” Reason Public Policy Institute. Web.

Sycamnias, E. All prisons should be managed by private enterprise. The pros and cons. Web.

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