Privatization of Corrections
Privatization is often viewed as an effective means of reducing cost and making services more efficient. Due to the nature of government and its bureaucracy, services such as prisons are often seen as highly ineffective and costly due to their nonprofit status. However, privatization presents many issues which may not be present in other industries, such as conflicts of interest, which are present in the justice industry. The cost of prisons has escalated, and despite conflicts of interest, there is a trend towards privatization. This trend in privatization has many negative ramifications that clearly show that privatization is not in the interest of justice.
The Risk of Corruption
One of the most serious problems with prison privatization is the fact that companies do not maintain the same focus on justice and protecting society as public agencies. The primary focus of firms is to profit, and this aim can naturally lead to situations were conflicts of interest and unethical behavior occurs. This problem is evident in other examples of security which has been privatized such as the military or police. One of the most glaring examples of conflict of interest in this arena can be seen in the privatization of military units specifically a firm called Executive Outcomes. During the civil war in Angola and Sierra Leone, Executive Outcomes was hired to be a peace keeping force (Barlow, 2014). The company was able to reduce the violence and bring peace to the region but it also did this without regard for international human rights laws and because it was not considered a country, the security firm could act without concern for military rules of engagement as dictated by Geneva Convention (Barlow, 2014). Executive Outcomes also made deals with companies such as DeBeers to protect diamond mines which conflicted with the mission to bring peace to the region (Barlow, 2014). Examples such as this show that when profit and justice are aligned with the same mission, there can be a loss of duty and purpose. This same problem occurs in corrections within the US. When prisons are privatized they are not obligated to abide by constitutional requirements in the same manner that justice department workers must. There are questions raised in this situations such as the treatment of prisoners and what constitutes a violation of law. For example, a private security company may not be accountable for constitutional violations of prisoners since they do not fall under the same justice department rules. This is a questionable area but in reality these corrections officials and works should be following the Constitution and should not be exempt.
Perhaps the largest issue is the problem of conflict of interest. Private prisons are not motivated to rehabilitate prisoners because rehabilitation means that the prison population will be reduced which reduces profitability for the company. By the nature of profit, private security becomes counterproductive to the aim of justice. It is more likely that private prisons are going to concentrate on cost or increasing profitability which may mean higher rates of recidivism.
Corruption due to privatization was found to be occurring when Judge Mark Ciavarella was found guilty of taking bribes and kickbacks from a juvenile detention center that was for profit facility (Pavlo, 2011). The judge
…sent kids to juvenile detention for crimes such as possession of drug paraphernalia, stealing a jar of nutmeg and posting web page spoofs about an assistant principal (3 months of hard time). Some of those sentenced were as young as 10 years old (Pavlo, 2011).
This is an example of how private prisons can infiltrate and create corruption.
The Problem of Service Quality
Private prisons are also problematic due to the quality issues. The problem in this area is that the measure of quality in terms of overcrowding and treatment of imamates is questionable. The reason for this issue is the fact that privatized prisons are supposed to meet accreditation standards which is performed by the American Correctional Association (ACA). The standards for accreditation include:
- pre-accreditation assessment,
- application status,
- correspondent status,
- standards compliance audit,
- accreditation hearing,
- accredited status
- and re-accreditation(Harding, 1997).
While this sounds reasonable the problem is that the ACA is not a public organization but is instead organized and funded by private prisons (Harding, 1997). The prisons are essentially judging and accrediting themselves which is a an extremely controversial practice considering that there are constitutional rights that must be considered in the handling of prisoners and their treatment.
Privatization has many issues and it is unlikely that firms will be able to operate these prisons due to conflicts of interest. The inability of these companies to see beyond profit and there lack of constraint to the Constitution presents a situation that invites human rights abuse and lack of ethics. If a guard beats a prisoner in a private prison is this the same violation as in a public prison? Under no circumstance should the question of using physical punishment be entertained, when privatization is considered as a an alternative this is a problem because of the blurred lines of legality and ethics.
The problem with prisons is not really an issue of ineffectiveness of the government as much as it is an issue of the system being overtaxed by too many prisoners. Problems such as drugs have created overcrowding issues which stretch the resources of the prison system. If community based programs were used in lieu of prison this would be more effective in reducing recidivism and the prison population. For this reason, private prisons should be phased out of the justice department.
Barlow, E. (2014). Executive Outcomes – Against all Odds (3 ed.). New York, NY: Random.
Harding, R. W. (1997). Private Prisons and Public Accountability. New Jersey: Open University Press.
Pavlo, W. (2011, August 12). Pennsylvania Judge Gets ‘Life Sentence’ For Prison Kickback Scheme. Retrieved from Forbes