March, 26, 2018
Public vs. Private Prisons
Prisons in America hold a cumulative of around 3.2 million prisoners. Clearly the importance of safely run prisons is present in today’s society. Prisons are meant to house dangerous criminals, and also ready them to enter back into society. This is more complicated than it seems, considering there is much controversy on how to properly run a prison. Originally all prisons were government run prisons until 1983 when Corrections Corporation of America was established. The newly introduced private sector raises debate on which prison system should be ran in the future. Subjects for discussion consist of the financial costs, the efficiency of treatment, the ability to adapt, recidivism rates and the quality of life for the inmates.
Financial costs of prison systems is important because funding for prisons lately is becoming a struggle. The annual cost to hold one prisoner in Federal prison is $31,286.00 according to the Vera Institute of Justice. Money accumulates from tax payers and government grants in order to meet their prisoner’s needs. The societal view of where the community’s money is going is negative considering they receive no benefits from this. Also the cost of paying their staff along with the cost of running the facility, began to stack up debt for public prisons. It is now believed that switching to privately run prisons will generate an income from other areas, which in return; lowers taxes. Privately owned prisons make their money based off a stipend from the government. The government will provide a stipend if the private prison can prove to house inmates cheaper than a public run prison. An example of how privatization generates profit is the Keefe Supply Company. The company sells “prisoner-proof” accessories at outrageous prices for the inmates to purchase. The deregulation of government costs is what allows the company to sell their products at such a high price. Keefe Supply Company is contracted with over 800 prisons and accumulates an annual income of a billion dollars.
The negative side of privatization is the prisons ability to cut certain services in order to save money. It may look good on paper, but in reality the standard of living declines. Also the management of privatized jails is more problematic. Since private jails look to save money, cheaper labor seems to be an answer. According to The Economics of Private Prisons, 65 to 70 percent of prison costs are the salaries of staff. “Private correctional officers are generally not members of a union and in 2015 they received salaries that were about $7,000 lower than the average public officer’s salary.”(Mumford, Whitmore Schanzenbach, Nunn, 2016, p. 5). A turnover rate is the percentage of employees in a workforce to leave during a certain period of time. In 2008 a turnover report in Texas found 90 percent of private prison staff members had left their jobs. In contrast, the same study found only 24 percent of state prison staff members left their jobs. Using pay as a motive doesn’t seem to be a tactic used by private prisons. Cheaper labor means less qualified staff members. In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ruled a private prison in Mississippi allowed inadequate trained staff to be hired. Another example is the FBI conducted an investigation consisting of correction officers negotiating with gang members in Idaho. The negotiation involved gang violence to be used as a threat to maintain order in the prison. Cheaper labor also means lower interest to perform tasks properly. This could also mean less staff on the job around the clock. Private prisons on average hire one officer per 7 inmates while public prisons hire one officer per 5 inmates. The lower the security watch, the higher risk for deviant activity. Considering the overall goal of prisons is to correct criminal behavior, questions rise about the actual purpose of private prisons. Another controversial point is the private sector still receives money from the government. Studies show private prisons barely if at all save money. In addition, private prisons are not subjected to release certain details relating to expenses. The cost of provided services is often “confidential” which could benefit public prisons in cost efficiency. The goal should be to eliminate government spending so the citizens can trust where their money is going.
The overall discussion about the expenses of each style prison is hard to analyze. Public and private prisons vary when it comes to how many inmates, gender of inmates, design and size. It would be difficult to make the criteria equal considering the income prisons make from housing certain amounts of inmates. According to the GAO, Private prison data collected from their contractors is not comparable to public data. Public expenditures like employee benefits, and insurance are covered from other government agencies and not included in expenses. Also, money borrowed from the government is not accounted for. These costs added up could account for as much as 40 percent of overlooked costs. The government also lends money to private prisons for staff training, and inmate transportation.
The Current Status of Prison Privatization Research on American Prisons by Gerald Gaes analyzed several studies between private and public prisons. In his reading, he reviewed two meta-analyses regarding pros and cons of each prison system. A meta-analysis is a subset of systematic reviews; a method for reviewing data from several studies to develop a conclusion. He first reviewed an analysis done by Lundahal et al conducted in 2009. Lundahal required each of the twelve studies to meet certain criteria; like holding only adult male prisoners. He noticed private savings were only 2.2 percent more. The quality of living however, was slightly lower in private prisons. To conclude the first meta-analysis; each difference was minor, and neither prison system was better than the other. The next study; conducted by Pratt and Maahs (1999), required the calculation of each inmates cost per day. The meta-analysis used 24 studies with 33 separate evaluations. Pre calculations consisted of the age of the facility, and the prison’s security level. Their findings were public inmates cost around $41.09 per day, private inmates cost around $38.64 per day. Pratt and Maahs also conducted t-tests on the facilities to find the costs for running each prison system. They found no statistical difference between the two. The two noticed difference in cost between the size, age and security levels in each system, each level was equal between both styles.
Often times, prisoners need other rehabilitative services besides just being monitored. Drug counseling for example is needed for many addicts in the system. Also general schooling or GED certification programs should be provided by prisons. Private prisons are at fault because they are generally your basic level prison. Publicly run prisons usually cater to their prisoners needs in hopes to rehabilitate these people. A topic parallel to this is the housing of certain level criminals. Privately run prisons typically house basic level criminals. Their staff along with housing and treatment programs are not qualified enough to house certain tier criminals. Private prisons deal with more prison riots as well as escapes on average. Publicly owned prisons have different level security prisons to house the most dangerous criminals in America. Once again, the success changing a criminal lies in the hands of the staff looking after them. Staff with a higher paycheck will show greater work ethic in rehabilitating and teaching the inmates. Also success rates will be higher if there are more specific rehabilitation services provided.
Healthy inmates are able to participate in daily activities at a more successful rate. Therefore, medical services are a key asset in contributing to the overall function of a prison. Judith Greene compares the medical attention provided by each prison system in Comparing Private and Public Prison Services and Programs in Minnesota: Findings from Prisoner Interviews. Her idea was to interview a total of 106 prisoners. There were 49 prisoners who volunteered from private prisons (PCF), and the rest were randomly selected from public prisons (DOC). A few stipulations like no serious illness, and no serious mental health problems were established. Her survey concluded DOC prisoners received more medical care by three percent, but the PCF prisoners received more sessions of treatment. The prisoners of DOC received more dental care by around three percent, and more sessions on average. PCF prisoners received more infirmary stays by around nine percent, and an average of two and a half more days. DOC provided 69.7 percent of their inmates with HIV information classes while PCF provided zero. DOC provided 30 percent more general health education classes. PCF provided around three percent more casework aid. DOC provided around nine percent more legal service counselling sessions. In conclusion, it appears medical services for public prisons are more cautious. It appears the private sector would rather place their prisoners on bed rest instead of finding the underlying problem. In addition, public sector prisons take precaution by educating their inmates on how to prevent disease. To compliment this, DOC prisoners said they benefited greatly from these classes. The catch is if their inmates are learning about dangers of health issues, then why are they receiving more medical and health care?
In order for a prison to lower recidivism rates, prisons must focus on three major issues concerning their inmates. The first issue is education. In order for an inmate to survive once they are released, they should at least have a general understanding of the evolving world around them. Many felony offenders are sentenced to many years in jail. Since our world is always advancing, they will need to adapt to new lifestyles they aren’t used to. The second issue is correcting their behavioral patterns. Since certain experiences triggered the prisoner to commit a crime, correcting their thought process is crucial in case they are exposed to the same situations. The third issue is success rates in terms of income. Criminals are at a disadvantage when it comes to job options after being released. It is in correction officer’s hands to provide a sustainable income for prisoners once released. The Challenges of Prison Re-Entry Into Society written by the Simmons Staff explains some difficulties with entering back into society. The Simmons Staff (2016) recorded “Within three years if release, 67.8 percent of ex-offenders are arrested, within five years, 76.6 are rearrested” (para. 1).
Referring back to Judith Greene’s analysis on Minnesota prisons, she conducted a survey about program participation and availability. The private sector had about twelve percent less general education classes. In fact, the private prison had zero full time general education courses. On the other hand, private prisons had 2.5 percent more vocational classes, but again no full time classes. With regards to drug and alcohol classes, the public sector blows private prisons out of the water. Only nine percent claim to have partaken these classes in private prisons. While in public prisons 42 percent claim to be a part of these courses. An in depth look reveals private prisons require a three hour class daily, public prisons require full- day schooling programs. Public prisons have a more professional approach to education systems. All teachers regarding academics must possess a state certification. Private prisons are not subjected to have their teachers necessarily certified by the state. Instead the CCA manages the rules and regulations regarding qualified teachers. A record taken from private prisons showed only three of the six teachers at PCF had academic certificates from July to September in 1998. It was also found that GED’s earned from PCT were lower in quality than DOC. From reading comment of the prisoners about GED programs of both systems, on conclusion is present. Skill sets vary per individual and both prison systems fail to cater to this. Prisoners believe each system should provide more diverse programs tailored to certain skill requirements of different jobs. GED programs only provide basic understanding of certain fields such as math and literature. In order for prisoners to apply for certain jobs, additional education in certain fields is required. Essentially prisoners prefer a college structure giving them freedom to choose courses related to jobs they’d enjoy. Also certificate programs showing they have an understanding in certain fields. In my opinion, allowing prisoners to have freedom of choosing classes and obtaining different certificates is wrong. Prisoners would essentially be going to college for free. The society outside of prisons pay substantial amounts to receive their degrees. Providing prisoners with free classes is unfair. Taxpayer money is sent to prisons as well as public schools. Therefore, providing a GED program is the extent to which prisoners should have access to.
In my opinion, finding a job after prison is the most important factor. The reason is having a job allows the person to be occupied. In most cases free time leads to deviant activity. Also without a decent income these people are more likely to steal to make ends meet. Some limitations for these employees are certain license restrictions such as CDL’s. Also in some cases not being able to vote, and not being able to work around children. The Simmons Staff continues to explain why hiring ex-prisoners is dangerous by explaining liabilities. Employers are responsible for and held liable for employing potentially dangerous workers. For African American offenders, their ability to find a job is on average twice as difficult. What employers fail to recognize is the gifted abilities some of these people possess. For example, drug dealers are excellent in the marketing and financial sector. Criminals who hotwire cars for joyriding, probably have a decent understanding of auto mechanics or basic electricity. Criminals with breaking and entering charges potentially have innovative ideas for home security systems. Prisons should recognize an individual’s skill set in order to provide a sense of direction so prisoners have an idea of how to apply for certain positions.
Pre-release programs are designed to ready inmates for the real world. The program’s focus is on financial management and how to “sell themselves” in a job market. By the end of this program, criminals will have connections to companies or at least their foot in the door. Judith Greene analyzed the availability of pre-released programs between the DOC and PCF. In both prison systems, pre-release programs were not conducted with every prisoner. In PCF 21 percent reported taking these classes. In DOC only 11 percent were participating in these classes. The majority of prisoners from both prisons reported this wasn’t an expectation of them. During the interview, PCF prisoners rarely mention their pre-release programs. The DOC prisoner had many negative comments about these programs. Complaints consisted of lack of job opportunity when being released and lack of housing arrangements prior to release.
To conclude which prison system provides more effective treatments, certain criteria favors each system. The general health of prisoners is respected more by public prisons. Private prisons care about the well-being of their prisoners, but fail to recognize why their prisoners are becoming ill. The general knowledge of prisoners is also respected more by public prisons. I believe public prisons have more personnel trained to understand prison life, and the struggle for inmates. This could be due to the amount of time private prisons have been around. Also, private prisons are typically in control of less severe criminals. Therefore, private prisons are able to have less certified staff.
Recidivism rates are a large determining factor when deciding which prison system is better. According to the Florida Department of Corrections, recidivism rates on average were lower in private prisons. The results however, were not consistent since the beginning of private prisons. In 1996 Lanza-Kaduce, Parker and Thomas (1999) conducted research analyzing recidivism rates between public and private prisons in Florida. Between the beginning of June to the end of September, 396 males (half from each prison) were released. There were 4 separate classifications of recidivism taken into account. The data they collected was taken 12 months after the criminals had been released. Lanza-Kaduce et al. (1999) found nine percent more public inmates had been arrested. Four percent more public inmates were convicted. Four percent more public inmates had committed new crimes. Prisoners arrested for technical violations were equal between both prison systems. The overall recidivism rate was seven percent higher of public inmates. A later study conducted by Lanza-Kaduce and Maggard (2001) analyzed the same inmates 36 months later. Their study only consisted of technical violations and new offenses. Their study concluded similarly to the previous study but with a smaller percentage gap. In conclusion of recidivism, private prisons seem to provide a more positive influence on their inmates. This is surprising considering public prisons provide more education and safer environments. Perhaps caring less about prisoners in the system provides them with a negative jail experience. The negative jail experience is what drives private prisoners to never want to return.
Based off of my analysis of other people’s findings. I conclude, deciding which prison system is better depends on where the prisons are. Many sources I had found contradicted the previous one but I noticed a trend. One system works better in one state, the other works better in another. Since there were no studies conducted from private to public prisons nationwide, there’s no clear evidence as to which is better. I could conclude private prisons are cheaper all around. To contradict that, being cheaper means lower standards of other factors. Besides, in each prison system there are certain aspects of the budget which aren’t factored into the overall cost. In order to financially compare the two, they would have to be the same exact size and structure. Another factor is each prison is run differently. A private prison run in Michigan could differ from a prison run in Florida. The Government regulates public prisons but yet, each prison has a different structure and method. From personal experience, I visited the Trenton state prison and USP Canaan. Each prison was funded publicly. Yet the two prisons looked and were ran completely different. Another factor making it difficult to compare the two is the level of security. Public prisons are generally smaller and deal with prisoners who have less to cater to. The societal view may want private prisons because it seems tax money isn’t spent there. In reality, private prisons receive funding from the government anyway. According to statistics, public facilities provide more safety and better programs. To contradict this, recidivism rates are lower in private prisons. Recidivism rates may be lower because prisoners in private prisons have committed more minor crimes. I agree with many of the researchers regarding finding a more accurate way to compare the two. Until there is an accurate way of calculating which prison system on average is better, I cannot side with either systems structure.
Florida Department of Corrections Julie L. Jones, Secretary. (2003, December). Retrieved April 20, 2018, from http://www.dc.state.fl.us/pub/recidivismFSU/priorstudies.html
Gaes, G. (2012, January). The current status of Prison Privatization Research on American Prisons. Retrieved April 20, 2018, from https://works.bepress.com/gerald_gaes/1/
Institute, O. S. (1999, January 11). Comparing Private and Public Prison Services and Programs in Minnesota: Findings from Prisoner Interviews. Retrieved April 20, 2018, from https://www.inthepublicinterest.org/comparing-private-and-public-prison-services-and-programs-in-minnesota-findings-from-prisoner-interviews
Mumford, M., Schanzenbach, D. W., & Nunn, R. (2016, October 21). The economics of private prisons. Retrieved April 20, 2018, from https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-economics-of-private-prisons/Office, U. G. (2007, October 05). Cost of Prisons: Bureau of Prisons Needs Better Data to Assess Alternatives for Acquiring Low and Minimum Security Facilities. Retrieved April 20, 2018, from https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-08-6S. (2016, July 12). The Challenges of Prisoner Re-Entry Into Society. Retrieved April 20, 2018, from https://socialwork.simmons.edu/blog/Prisoner-ReentryVolokh, S. (2014, February 25). Are private prisons better or worse than public prisons? Retrieved April 20, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2014/02/25/are-private-prisons-better-or-worse-than-public-prisons/?utm_term=.ba56dd8a1ff7