by Patrick Appel

Will Wilkinson continues the discussion:

The great hazards of contracting out incarceration "services" is that private firms may well turn out to be even more efficient and effective than unions in lobbying for policies that would increase prison populations.

When we add to the mix the observations that America already puts a larger proportion of its population behind bars than does any other country (often for acts that ought to be legal), and that the US already spends an insane portion of national income on the largely non-productive garrison state, it is hard to see the expansion of a for-profit industry with a permanent interest in putting ever more people in cages as consistent with either efficiency or justice. 

Another worry is that private prison "efficiencies" often involve sub-par training and salaries for guards – a point prison guard unions are quick to make. But the biggest problem with private prisons is there is no incentive for a private prison to rehabilitate the prisoners in their care. The state incurs the costs of prisoners and recidivism. A private prison only has to worry about the first cost. In fact, higher rates of recidivism means more prisoners and therefore more money for private prisons. I'm not accusing any private prison of actively encouraging recidivism, but I don't like the perverse incentives at play. A reader is on the same page:

Private prisons move incarceration from a pure punishment/rehabilitation regime to a profitable business model based on a continuous supply of inmates. This is probably the biggest issue I have with the privatization of governmental responsibilities. The state has a vested interest in clearing the jails with rehabilitated citizens. The for profit model requires a constant supply of fresh prisoners. Once again, in the private model there is no incentive to rehabilitation. This is a problem I see with American life in general, everything has been reduced to some form of commercial activity. No one does anything anymore without calculating the cost in dollars and cents. We have made the choice to serve mammon, and sure enough, here we are.

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