Prison for Profit

Here's an interesting article:

Basically, this corporation, Corrections Corporation of America, has offered to buy states' prisons, in exchange for a 20 year management contract, plus an assurance that the prison would remain at least 90 percent full.

So, what happens if crime goes down?  What happens if prosecutors aren't getting those convictions and are pleading people out to non-incarceratory sentences?  What about "alternative-to-incarceration" programs?  Would the pressure be on judges to look for excuses to violate people on probation or in programs to keep the jails full?

There are other concerns pointed out in the article, including the fact that the plan doesn't necessarily save the states any money, but I have a really hard time with the idea that we, as a society, want to keep our prisons full.  Shouldn't the goal of law enforcement and the court system be a decrease in crime, however utopian that may seem?


  1. Sadly, it's the Field of Dreams approach to full employment for prosecutors: If you build it, they will come.

  2. For profit prisons are a vile business. There is no reason to have publicly traded companies like CCA working to maximize the number of people in jail while minimizing the resources provided to these people to help rehabilitate them.

  3. Well, if no one else is going to say anything...welcome back from the dead.

    I assume that if the the prison population declines, for whatever reason, the states would have to either transfer in prisoners from other prisons, borrow prisoners from other states, or pay penalties spelled out in the contract. CCA pretty much has to have an occupancy requirement if they're going to make an up-front investment in the physical plant. If they're just managing the prisons, they can staff up or down as the inmate population changes, but if they own the physical plant...prisons are very specialized buildings. It's not as if they can sell it off to some other business.

    (By the way, poking around on the CCA site is kind of creepy. Lots of people smiling about running prisons.)

    Of course, as you point out, this creates a moral hazard for state officials. I imagine there would be a lot of pressure to "streamline" the justice system.

    And yes...I am always watching for you... :-)

  4. If I was one of the hundreds of unemployed (unemployable?) lawyers in the USA I would look for a prison to sue. It's hard to imagine there are no complainants to be found.

  5. Based on what we're spending to incarcerate the average inmate a year (usually around 23K) shouldn't the incentive be o minimize the number of inmates, if we're actually looking to control spending?