ERIC Number: ED311244
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 1988
Reference Count: N/A
Prisons for Profit: Public Justice, Private Interests.
Donahue, John D.
This paper examines several aspects of the private prison debate: (1) How much scope is there for improving the technical and economic efficiency of incarceration through contracting-out to private prison entrepreneurs? (2) Will a fully developed corrections industry be sufficiently competitive to ensure that any efficiency gains are passed on to the taxpayers? and (3) Would contracting-out for prison management create the opportunity for private firms to exercise influence, illegitimately and inefficiently, over public decisions about corrections? This assessment yields the following major conclusions: (1) neither theory nor the limited data that exist suggest that the task of incarceration is very well suited to the advantages offered by profit-seeking organizations--chiefly, cost consciousness and an aptitude for innovation; (2) there are serious structural barriers to genuine competition for prison management contracts; (3) in general, the enterprise of incarcerating people has relatively little scope for technical progress in trimming costs; (4) even if private-prison corporations succeed in cutting costs, there is unlikely to be sufficient competition in any given community to ensure that the savings result in diminished government budgets for corrections; (5) there is a substantial likelihood that government contracts with prison corporations will fully protect neither the interests of the public nor the prison inmates; (6) although private prisons might not be as unaccountable or inhumane as some critics have predicted, neither do they offer anywhere near the advantages promoted by their advocates and agents; (7) incarceration today remains a symbolically potent public function; and (8) dismissing widespread uneasiness among policymakers about introducing profits into punishment and corrections requires far more compelling practical advantages than private prisons are likely to deliver. Six pages of notes are included at the end of the paper. (NLL)
Descriptors: Bids, Competition, Contracts, Correctional Institutions, Cost Effectiveness, Entrepreneurship, Prisoners, Private Agencies, Public Administration
Economic Policy Institute, 1730 Rhode Island Avenue, NW, Suite 812, Washington, DC 20036 ($4.00).
Publication Type: Information Analyses
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: Economic Policy Inst., Washington, DC.