Private prisons emphasize one of the major flaws in the United States criminal justice system, a flaw that puts money over people and has actual incentive to keep people in jail.
It is in my opinion that a prison functions for two purposes, the first of those purposes to rehabilitate criminals and introduce them back into society as healthy functioning people The second purpose of a prison is to lock away individuals who are unable of being rehabilitated, thus being removed from society.
When it comes to privatizing prisons they fundamentally cannot serve the first function of rehabilitation, as it will over time affect their business. When we turn prisons into a private sector operation and pay them to hold people, they have zero incentive to create programs and opportunities for rehabilitation.
Why would a prison, which makes money per head, ever want to create opportunities that not only empty their rooms, but prevent those same people from returning? The answer is they don’t; they are incentivized to keep people in prisons and for people to return to prison.
With America incarcerating more people than any other country, it is not surprising that some people see the value in creating prisons to hold people, but maybe if, as a country, we focused more on why crime is happening rather than just punishing the crime, we might actually see the number of people in prisons decrease.
It does not help as well that an unproportioned number of people in prison are young black men, meaning privatizing prisons may also reinforce a system that fosters racism. This, on top of the consequences on the failed war on drugs, means we are keeping people in jail for nonviolent drug charges and paying private prisons to do it.
Crime is a symptom of bigger issues. Of course, even if the world was perfect, there would still be some people committing crime because it is easy or because they are just malicious but I think that most criminals probably thought that this was their only path.
If we address the bigger issues of poverty racism and mental health we, as a society, can actually deal with crime on a meaningful level. Until then, private prisons and other sleazy ways to capitalize on crime will be another side effect.
When the government outsources its responsibilities to the private sector, it gives the private sector a level of power. As the dependency of these private sector jobs increases, so too does the power of the company, taking away power from people.
Any job that is the responsibility of the government, prisons included, should be handled by the government that the people elect, not a third party that we have little say in.
We are seeing this trend in multiple areas, not just prisons, and it has caused a decrease in quality when private companies may not need to follow as strict of regulations as the government. I know as a if I ever was in the unfortunate situation of being in prison, I would like to know I was in the hands of an elected government, not a private corporation.
Paul Lucas can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org