Public Prisons Vs. Private Prisons

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Public Prisons vs. Private Prisons

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  1. Introduction

Most people will never go to prison in their life. Without a personal connection to the prison system in the United States, most people just don’t care about it.

They don’t think of violence, reoffending or fair salaries for the workers. They don’t care if someone goes to jail and gets sent back or if the food is good and people are comfortable. These opinions change quickly when talking to someone with a friend or family member in jail. They understand where their money goes, how much things cost, and who is profiting off of the hardships of their loved one. There are several advantages and disadvantages of using private sector prisons in the United States.

There are issues with taxpayer funding of public versus private prisons, the lack of support that public prisons have, and the issues in funding that come along with private sector prison programs and the employment and operational costs of the facilities. When you look at the facts of public and private prisons, there are a lot of issues to debate and concerns to be raised.

Many people feel there are morality issues when you see how guards treat prisoners, especially in the private ones. The controversy of wages and how fair they are and the possibility of CEO’s getting extra privileges is also something that concerns people. There is also controversy over where the money in the prison system should be spent. Is it important to help and educate prisoners so they do not come back to jail? Or should prison be someplace uncomfortable and miserable so you don’t want to ever come back? The purpose of this paper is to weigh the pros and cons of operating correctional facilities as businesses.

The government obviously runs public prisons, but is it fair for businesses to make millions and millions of dollars off of crime? Tax payer money goes to public prisons and they fail a lot of times, so that’s why private prisons are being built. But since the government isn’t regulating these private prisons, it is hard to keep them honest and fair and keep track of what goes on inside. Problems with public prisons can be seen on both the state and federal level. There are problems with overcrowding, inmate violence and reoffending. However, even though taxes are being sent to these prisons, nothing is being done to reform the problems.

You always hear on the news and on television about the inequalities of races in prisons and the large numbers of people that go to jail, get let out and then go back. If these problems were looked at more seriously, they could be solved or at least made better, and citizens would feel more comfortable about how their taxes are being spent by the government. Private prisons are basically businesses that make money off of the pain, suffering and mistakes of others by sending people to jail. It is controversial because many people feel that private companies should not be allowed to make money off of crime.

People who like private prisons and are in favor of them argue that these new facilities will lower their taxes and bring in new jobs to the area. A lot of citizens like this idea because most of them do not have family or friends in prison, and prisoners brought in to private prisons are not always from that geographic area. People like to see their money go into things they’re interested in, like parks if they like nature or education if they have kids. A lot of people forget sometimes that lowering crime makes everyone’s life better. It is true that most of the times private prisons use less public funds, but it is important to see why they are using less money.

Since private prisons are not run by the government there is no senator or mayor approving how the money is used. A lot of corners can be cut because there is not as much oversight and people do not need approval for projects or budget cuts.

This also lowers operational costs because less people have to be hired, fed and accounted for but both workers and prisoners suffer. Crime has always been around and is never going away, but just because that is the case does not mean crime is something that should be profited off of. There are many advantages and disadvantages to using private prisons instead of public ones in the United States.

  1. The Pros of Having Private Prisons:

In recent years, private prisons have become a big business in the United States.

We have gone from having 44 private prisons in 1990 to about half of convicts going to private prisons in 2009 (Pollard, 2012). The largest owner of private prisons is called the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and they make five times as much money today as they did 20 years ago. Companies like the CCA have been offering to take over public prisons that are failing in 48 of the 50 states (Simmons, 2013). State governments like private prisons because they can be built fast and cost less money to operate. Public prisons have to deal with government funding and what materials are available from the state or federal governments at their location.

But, the private companies can put up the buildings faster and lower the costs to operate them. (Pollard, 2012). For these reasons, many people are starting to prefer private prisons to public ones. One reason residents like private prisons is because they can increase revenues and income for the area they’re in.

The increase in money benefits the citizens not just because the town or city gets money, but prisons are also big buildings that need employees so a lot of jobs are also provided. Jobs like corrections officers, nurses, therapists and clerks will be available in the prison and sometimes more officers are added to the police force. One county that benefitted from having a private prison built there is Karnes County in Texas. In 1998 the GEO Group built a private corrections facility there and it went so well that they built another one in 2011. The facility in 2011 was a detention center for immigrants and it housed 600 people.

With both of these private prisons together, the county had around 250 new jobs and an extra $150,000 coming in in taxes (Palaez, 2014). The happiest part of having a private prison in your community is the way you can give back.

Also in Karnes County, Texas, GEO Group contributed so much to the community. Every year, they give $4,000 for school scholarships and about $6,000 to the court house so it can stay open. And not everything they donate is large amounts of money. GEO Group also donates to the local Rotary Club, Toys for Tots, the Little League and the local cancer walk fundraiser (Palaez, 2014).

With all this money, it is hard for a private prison to come to a town or city and not be seen as powerful and successful. Local community members like the good things that come from the prisons since they are places where bad things are expected to happen.

  1. The Cons of Private Prisons:

Unless you know someone in prison, a lot of times it is hard to understand policies and what it’s like there. Since private prisons are private, they do not have the same government regulations that public prisons have. This means that fees and costs do not need to be checked or approved.

A good example of high fees that could be seen as unjust is Virginia mom Pat Taylor. Her son is in a private prison for a twenty year sentence. On top of paying for her own living expenses, she must also pay for her son Eddie and his basic needs like toilet paper, tooth paste and winter clothes. A new system out of Florida called JPay is what prison families use to get money to their family members.

As a private company, they can charge fees as high as they want to. The company can also send money to the inmates slower to cut costs. “Sending a money order through JPay takes too long, so Taylor started using her debit card to get him funds instead. To send Eddie $50, Taylor must pay $6.95 to JPay. Depending on how much she can afford to send, the fee can be as high as 35 percent.

In other states, JPay’s fees approach 45 percent. After the fee, the state takes out another 15 percent of her money for court fees and a mandatory savings account, which Eddie will receive upon his release in 2021, minus the interest, which goes to the Department of Corrections,” (Wagner 2014).

So as you see here, JPay is profiting both off of Pat Taylor and the length of her son’s jail time because they get interest off of all his payments for the whole sentence. It is easy to ignore the problems at private prisons because most of them are unseen. People don’t know how they get their money and don’t care because they know that taxes can be lowered from private prisons. But how are these costs cut? One way is by requiring the prisons to meet quotas.

This means if the prison is required to be at a certain capacity, meaning more prisoners are sent there and they get more money. In the article “6 Shocking Revelations About how Private Prisons Make Money,” April Short talks about the moral issues she has with private prisons and also tells six facts about private prisons that most people are not aware of. One thing that she talks about that is important is that a lot of private prisons use occupancy guarantee clauses. These contracts are between the private prison and the government to guarantee that a certain number of prisoners are sent to the prison each year and that makes their profit higher. These occupancy guarantee clauses range between 80% and 100%.

90% is the most frequent occupancy guarantee requirement. Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Virginia have contracts with the highest occupancy guarantee requirements. All of their quotas require between 95% and 100% occupancy. There is one contract that really sticks out.

Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Ohio has a 20 year deal that includes a 90% quota. This quota will go on for a long time and has let the prison cut corners on safety, including overcrowding, areas without secure doors and an increase in crime both inside the prison and in the surrounding community (Short 2013). Money is also saved by lowering staffing costs.Workers at private prisons make less money than workers in public ones. You can see the low wages workers are paid in Oklahoma. The salary for a corrections officer at a private prison is $11.93 an hour with most officers making around $22,700 a year.

Since they barely make any money, officers in this state are likely to use food stamps or reduced lunch programs for their kids (Simmons 2013). This is why private prisons have so many problems.

They focus on cutting costs instead of treating employees and prisoners the right way and therefore end up with a lot more isssues. The last fact that shows private prisons in a bad light is their executive pay rate. Even though prison guards and employees are the ones that help the prisons run, CEOs and executives make a lot more money. Two private groups that really show how much businesses benefit from prison are GEP Group and the Corrections Corporation of America.

The CEOs of both these companies made more than $3 million each in 2012 and together the companies are worth more than $1 billion (Wagner 2014).

  1. Both Sides of the Issue:

There are so many different ways to look at prison issues. In most cases, people are only concerned with money and how much these institutions will cost them in tax dollars. No one wants to pay more than they have to for a bunch of criminals that didn’t know how to behave and got themselves in this situation. From that side of the argument, private prisons would make sense and be the way to go.

Officers of the law are still getting paid to do their jobs, there isn’t a lot of money being taken from taxes and criminals are still being punished for their crimes. A lot of people don’t even know private prisons exist if they don’t know an inmate at one. And since people are not aware they aren’t informed either, so a money saving decision will seem like what’s best to them. The main reason private prisons are viewed favorably is because they make money and reduce crime, two things that Americans love.

People who have family members or friends that are in jail usually know more about the dangers and problems that come with private prisons. If you look at the facts even the workers at private prisons are not treated well. It is hard enough having a loved one in jail and knowing what happens to them in there every day. No one wants to think about a big business or company profiting off of the suffering of their son or daughter. One saying keeps coming to mind in the debate between public and private prisons.

“If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” Technically, it’s true. People should know that they will be punished for doing bad things and if they don’t want to be punished, they should behave better.

But, is it fair that how someone does their “time” is different in different prisons even if they did the same “crime?” V. Conclusion: In conclusion, you can’t deny that there are good things about having private prisons. There are not a lot of jobs in this country right now, so even though private prison workers don’t make as much as others, something is still better than nothing. Jobs can even be created by building the prisons because you need construction workers to help build them.

But, I do think that there is more bad in private prisons than good. Is it really fair for CEOs and businessmen to make a ton of money when someone else is sitting in a cell hating their life? To me it is immoral that someone other than the government can be in control of the lives of so many people, even if they are criminals. The government also doesn’t get to regulate private prisons, so they have no control over what goes on in there. Funds are not given out correctly, and the workers and inmates suffer while the business owners get rich. Less money also means they hire less guards and there is more violence towards and between inmates because there is less control.

There are a lot of problems with public prisons in America but private prisons don’t fix these problems, they just make taxes cheaper in some states. In my opinion, I think if the government could hire businesses to fix the problems with the public prisons they already have, instead of allowing businesses to just build new prisons all together. They should pay more attention to where tax money goes and inform the citizens better so they can understand what they are paying for. There should also be more rules.

Violence should not be allowed and guards should have to respect their uniforms just like prisoners should have to respect the guards that way they are more prepared to be released and won’t come back again. If the government focuses more on rehabilitation of both the public prison system and the inmates, they will have more success instead of giving up and letting a new company come in and create more problems.

  1. References

Palaez, V. (2014, March 31). The prison industry in the united states: big business or a new form of slavery? Retrieved from: Pollard, S.

(2012, November 28). Prisoner rights and private prisons.

Retireved from: Simmons, M. (2013, August 07). Punishment & profits: A cost-benefit analysis of private prisons. Retrieved from Short, A.

(2013, September 23). 6 shocking revelations about how private prisons make money. Retrieved from Wagner, D. (2014, September 20). Meet the prison bankers who profit from the inmates.

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Public Prisons vs. Private Prisons. (2017, Jun 26). Retrieved January 30, 2023 , from

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