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Too Good to be True: Private Prisons in America

NCJ Number
Cody Mason
Date Published
January 2012
25 pages
This report examines the cost- benefit of privatizing prisons.
Results show that the available evidence does not point to any substantial benefits to privatizing prisons. Although there are instances where private prisons result in small savings, the structure and demands of for-profit prisons appear to produce a negative overall impact on services. The available data challenges the claim that economic benefits of private contracting are cost saving. Even if private prisons can manage to hold down costs, this success often comes at the detriment of services provided. Nationwide, public funds for prisons are already limited leaving little excess spending that can be cut. Therefore, private prisons must make cuts in important high-cost areas such as staff, training, and programming to create savings; companies are pressured to maintain low overhead costs and provide less direct oversight. Finally, private prison companies' dependence on ensuring a large prison population to maintain profits provides inappropriate incentives to lobby government officials for policies that will place more people in prison. This is evidenced by the creation and coordination of model legislation through conservative lobbying groups, as well as in the political contributions and lobbying efforts of individual companies. This effort to increase reliance on incarceration comes at a time where America's rate of imprisonment is the highest in the world and when the prison population is far beyond the point of diminishing returns in terms of public safety. Charts, figures, and references