Monday, June 11, 2012

A CO's Evaluation of the Debate

Just wanted to drop a quick link to an article written by a CO from Florida evaluating the efficiency and safety of private prisons compared to government-ones.  Not surprisingly, he finds that private prisons fail to offer any significant cost-savings and are no safer than government-run facilities, even though he does so by relying on some older information.


  1. Anonymous12 June, 2012

    The numbers seem a little off in this story. Not a big deal, but it says that there are something like 119,000 private beds in the US, but then a paragraph later he says that CCA has a capacity of 80,000, and that GEO has 49,000, which exceeds the stated number of private beds in the US (119,000) by 10,000, and that's without adding in the other smaller private prison operators. Also, I have to wonder if the estimated savings takes into account that public institutions offer retirement, while private institutions don't. Granted, retirement pay probably comes out of a separate budget, not the corrections budget, but isn't it still a savings for the taxpayer when they don't have to pay a whole bunch of retired employees? One other thing that seemed to be a contradiction is that the author mentioned that private facilities are far more likely to house less costly non-violent offenders, but then went on to say that assaults on staff are more likely to happen at a private facility. If the inmates at a private facility are assaulting staff at a higher rate, doesn't that lead you to believe that they are more violent than your average inmates? Altogether though, this was scholarly, well written and a good example of an effective argument against prison privatization. This approach is better than the Chicken Little, "Sky is falling", arguments about "atrocities" at private prisons.

    1. Well his math was off by 10,000 in the article, but the number of beds has risen even since then; it's probably around 200,000+ now, including the smaller companies like MTC and LaSalle. The savings as they pertain to staffing costs do usually include benefits as well as salary/compensation, though I'm not entirely sure what measurement he used. As to the point about the violence, that would be the logical conclusion. But the truth is even more telling; despite taking on lower-level offenders, private prisons still have higher incident rates. Which to me implies that the facilities are really poorly mismanaged. Prisoners are still people, and are encouraged to act out by the same things that any human being would be in a similar setting; abuse, harassment, neglect, violation of one's rights, etc. To have mostly non-violent inmates reacting in such a way indicates a lot of problems in the ways prisoners are dealt with in private facilities.

  2. Anonymous14 June, 2012

    ...or, the higher rates of violence could be more of an indicator that private operators hire physically out of shape and/or older employees whom inmates feel more comfortable assaulting. It could be that there is no physical fitness program and no physical standards to graduate from the private prison's training program. Maybe the inmates have less fear of prosecution for assaulting staff because the people they're assaulting aren't law enforcement officers. Or, it could be that moderate and even high level offenders are re-classified to lower custody levels by the government agency that has contracted with the private prison as a way to push off more expensive to house inmates onto the contractor who makes a flat per diem no matter what it actually costs to house the inmates. Maybe inmates who are normally inclined to keep their hands off of staff can sense that private prison staff members aren't aggressive enough, and their timidity and weakness just invite aggression? That's just right off the top of my head, I'm sure I can think of some more possibilities, but I wouldn't draw a conclusion until I knew more facts.

    You, on the other hand, seem comfortable with your conclusion that inmates who assault staff at private facilities do so because they're being abused. You seem quite content to take all those different assaults in all those different places involving all different kinds of inmates in many diverse situations and attribute them all to a singular cause: abuse. Is your conclusion based on any study or research, or is it more of a conclusion you came to based on a gut feeling or a hunch? Do you have anything, even a couple of good anecdotal examples of SUBSTANTIATED (not just alleged) abuse that resulted in an attack on staff to back that theory up? Is it possible that inmates ever attack staff just because they are prone to that sort of behavior? What about attacks on staff members at publicly run facilities that house low level offenders? Are those attacks also most likely brought on by abusive staff?

    1. I think you're generally right, but a lot of your examples speak to my general point - that staff at private prisons seem to have more trouble managing inmates. I will say that I have rarely heard of prisoners being reclassified to push them onto private companies; the contract conditions tend to overwhelmingly favor the companies, and prison administrators seem much more likely to increase a prisoners' classification than to decrease it. many prison systems have specific, written guidelines as to what prisoners have to do in order to "step down" their classification level; many of those benchmarks hinge on consistent good behavior behind bars.

      I wouldn't say that I necessarily think all prisoner-on-staff violence is due to abuse -I listed some other potential reasons for acting out as well.

      But think about it - wouldn't lower level offenders tend to be less inclined to violence? People locked up for less severe crimes, who haven't spent as much time in the CJS, don't tend to be as violent as those who have spent longer durations of time in prison and committed more serious offenses. But many of your theories speak to the notion that this group of prisoners for some reason might be just as violent, if not more violent, than the mean.

      To answer your questions though - yes it's possible (and highly likely) that some prisoners attack staff because they are predisposed to acting violently. But that population doesn't overlap much with the population of low-level offenders, such as those convicted of drug crimes. I do think that the majority of prisoner-on-staff attacks, the large majority even, are incited in some way shape or form by staff mistreatment or mismanagement. Not necessarily physical abuse, but any number/combination of factors related to how prisoners live and interact.

      Finally, for examples - the recent riots in Mississippi and Georgia come immediately to mind, the situations at Walnut Grove (MS) and Idaho CC, the Minneci v. Pollard case

      Other private prisons with histories of abuse include: Otter Creek in KY, Saguaro in AZ, Kingman in AZ, Camino Nuevo in NM, all the private prisons in TN, the GEO and Serco immigration facilities in Australia, Pinal County Jail in AZ, Hutto in TX

      Do I need to go on? This is just from the first two pages of my archives. Look I don't just come at CCA and private prison companies for the hell of it. I've been researching them for nearly 5 years now and have seen in that time a pattern of abuse and neglect that far outpaces what I hear about from government facilities. You can take my word for it, or just go click on "abuse" in the cloud to your left for even more examples (including a lot of what I've written about the above examples)

      But I really do appreciate you reading and asking questions - I love to have an engaged and thoughtful audience. Please keep doing so!