Discovery Guides
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The Drain of Public Prison Systems and the Role of Privatization:
A Case Study of State Correctional Systems

(Released February 2010)

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  by David W. Miller  


Key Citations





This Discovery Guide has presented a brief comparison of public versus private prisons. Part I discussed the history of private prisons, and also showed that the top two private companies that operate private prisons, Wackenhut and CCA, provide equal or better services at a lower cost than public facilities. Part I also stressed the importance of the accreditation process through the American Correctional Association (ACA), an organization that will only continue to play a major role in the correctional field. This agency regulates privately operated prisons to ensure that they continue to meet standards that result in quality services. Part II presented studies that show that private prisons can provide cost-savings without impacting quality of services, and that recidivism rates can be lower through private services as compared to public services.

Because prison costs continue to rise, budgets will continue to increase as well (e.g. health care services); states can therefore best address prison needs and budget issues by finding a balance that best works for each individual system. As Mitchell emphasizes, states that move 5% of their public prisoners to a private facility can save money. These states should work on determining which type of inmate is most appropriate to serve time in a privately operated prison.

gang member arrested
Mara Salvatrucha suspect bearing gang tattoos is handcuffed
The most hopeful aspect of private prisons is a return to offering rehabilitative programs in the correctional system. These programs are the first to be cut in the public arena. However, due to providing a cost-savings, perhaps private prisons can return the criminal justice model to include these services again. This shift would return the system to a balance between punishment and rehabilitation.

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List of Visuals


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