It is important to note that the purpose of the correctional system or process is to ensure that a person changes his or her behavior in order to avoid committing crimes after release. The theme is that imprisonment is a major part of the correction. It protects society from dangerous individuals and creates an incentive for a criminal to avoid doing the acts which led to sentencing in the first place. When it comes to the corrections system, the main central issue is privatization and its subsequent performance, as well as cost incentives. The objective of the given analysis is primarily concerned with a framework of private prisons and their detrimental effects on the justice system. The findings indicate that private prisons are problematic because they have an incentive to grow, lack transparency and basic services, and disproportionately detain people of color.
Firstly, for-profit private prisons have a market incentive to grow, increase revenue, and detain more criminals. It is reported that “the United States has the world’s largest private prison population. Of the 1.5 million people in state and federal prisons in 2016, 8.5 percent, or 128,063, were incarcerated in private prisons” (Gotsch & Basti, 2018, p. 5). In other words, there is a strong trend in the US to rely on private prisons more compared to other nations. In addition, “from 2000 to 2016, the number of people housed in private prisons increased five times faster than the total prison population” (Gotsch & Basti, 2018, p. 5). Thus, the direction or movement of prison privatization is to grow and increase its capacity. This is a problematic incentive to have for an organization that is supposed to engage in correctional measures. The success of private prisons is not measured by their effectiveness at preventing future crimes post-correction but rather by the number of criminals detained in them.
One can clearly see how private prisons’ for-profit nature is an issue on its own. As with any business relying on profit, growth is a natural course of action as well as strategy. For example, if the level of crime is decreasing nationwide, then it means that there is less demand for contractors of private prisons, which results in less profit. Private prisons are primed to profiteer and capitalize on surges of crime, overflow of public prisons, and failure of the correctional system. There is a strong possibility that private correctional institutions do not justify the costs they incur on the government and social resources. A study found “the limited role that cost-benefit analysis plays in policy discussions about punishment policy” (Pratt, 2019, p. 447). An ideal environment for for-profit private prisons is to have high crime rates, high incarceration rates, low correctional success, and a more punitive justice system (Gotsch & Basti, 2018). Although such organizations’ sole purpose is to correct a criminal, it is more sustainably profitable for them to have a low correction success rate since it means that a detainee will return as a product.
Secondly, private prisons have a major problem with the provision of basic health services to detainees. A study suggests that “private prisons offered fewer substance dependency, psychological/psychiatric, and HIV/AIDS-related programs” (Bacak & Ridgeway, 2018, p. 62). It should be noted that the process of correction involves aiding criminals in addressing their health issues, especially mental health problems. By failing to provide psychological and psychiatric services, detainees are likely to leave private prisons with exacerbated symptoms, which can lead to more dangerous crimes later. A similar observation can be made about substance dependency and addiction since illegal drugs are one of the main reasons for imprisonment and sentencing (Bacak & Ridgeway, 2018). If the correctional procedure in private prisons is unable to treat drug addictions among its detainees, it means that these organizations are ineffective compared to public versions. In addition, imprisonment does not translate into prisons completely denying basic human rights and necessities, such as health. Even if correction is not a goal of imprisonment, it does not justify treating detainees as non-humans.
Thirdly, transparency and availability of information are significant challenges, which makes studying the effectiveness of private prisons a problem. This is best reflected by the fact that the representation of detainees is poorer in private prisons compared to public ones. Evidence suggests that “prisons with greater representation have fewer assaults and exercise fewer disciplinary actions. We offer evidence that the positive effects of demographic representation may not hold in privately managed prisons” (Johnston & Holt, 2019, p. 516). In other words, for-profit private prisons are rather inaccessible fortresses with no transparency on what practices are taking place within them. The limited amount of data available from private correctional institutions make the evaluative assessment challenging.
One could argue that if there is nothing to conceal from the public eye, then private prisons would be incentivized to be more open and transparent for marketing purposes. However, the opposite is true since the already limited data provide evidence to indicate that such prisons engage in excessive violence from prison guards, in-prison inmate violence, and inhumane conditions (Clear et al., 2018). Some experts claim that “private-sector involvement directly or indirectly undermines or enhances the legitimacy of either system,” referring to institutional- or community-based corrections systems (Byrne et al., 2019, p. 477). Therefore, the privatization of imprisonment is questionable at best and highly ineffective and unethical at worst.
Fourthly, private prisons tend to disproportionately target minority groups, exemplified by their demographic data of the prison populations. It is stated that “private prisons detain inmate populations that are disproportionately non-white, under federal jurisdiction, and serving short sentences” (Burkhardt, 2017, p. 24). Thus, it is evident that minority groups comprise the majority of detainees in for-profit private prisons compared to public ones. In addition, the fact that the majority of detained individuals are the ones serving shorter sentences supports the point made above about the incentives. Privatization needs a sustainable influx of prisoners to generate profit with minimal costs associated with their maintenance. As a result, private prisons will be more profitable if they spend less on each prisoner and have a higher turnover rate due to short sentences to increase the price per detainee. Ultimately, this disproportionality has serious implications in regard to the equity of punishment since minorities tend to be allocated to private prisons at a higher rate than white offenders.
A similar demographic difference can be observed when it comes to the officers at private prisons. It is stated that private prisons “employ officers that are disproportionately female and black or Hispanic. These results depict the private prison sector as distinct from its public counterpart” (Burkhardt, 2017, p. 24). Although one might argue that it is a positive trend due to equity, inclusion, and social justice in the labor market, the case of private prisons is related to other factors. Since the incentive of such organizations is to reduce costs to generate more profit, they tend to hire more women and people of color at lower pay (Burkhardt, 2017). In a sense, private prisons promote discriminatory practices not only against the detainees but staff workers as well.
In conclusion, the thorough research on private prisons and their effectiveness in correctional measures shows that they are effective and problematic. The key reasons include the fact that they have an incentive to grow, lack transparency and basic services, and disproportionately detain people of color. For the latter, the minority groups comprise the majority of detainees in for-profit private prisons compared to public ones, and the equivalent demographic difference can be observed when it comes to the officers. The limited amount of data available and the lack of transparency in private correctional institutions make the evaluative assessment challenging. The small amount of information already provides evidence to indicate that such prisons engage in excessive violence from prison guards, in-prison inmate violence, and inhumane conditions. It should be noted that the process of correction involves aiding criminals in addressing their health issues, especially mental health problems, but private prisons lag behind their public counterparts. Lastly, the direction or movement of prison privatization is to grow and increase its capacity, which is a problematic incentive to have for an organization that is supposed to engage in correctional measures.
Bacak, V., & Ridgeway, G. (2018). Availability of health-related programs in private and public prisons. Journal of Correctional Health Care, 24(1), 62-70. Web.
Burkhardt, B. C. (2017). Who is in private prisons? Demographic profiles of prisoners and workers in American private prisons. International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice, 51, 24-33. Web.
Byrne, J., Kras, K. R., & Marmolejo, L. M. (2019). International perspectives on the privatization of corrections. Criminology & Public Policy, 18(2), 477-503. Web.
Clear, T., Reisig, M. D., & Cole, G. F. (2018). American corrections (12th ed.). Cengage Learning.
Gotsch, K., & Basti, V. (2018). Capitalizing on mass incarceration U.S. growth in private prisons [PDF document]. Web.
Johnston, J. M., & Holt, S. B. (2019). Examining the influence of representative bureaucracy in public and private prisons. Policy Studies Journal, 49(2), 516-561. Web.
Pratt, T. C. (2019). Cost–benefit analysis and privatized corrections. Criminology & Public Policy, 18(2), 447-456. Web.