NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 20, 2008

The crackdown on illegal immigration, longer mandatory sentences for certain crimes and other factors have overcrowded many government facilities, thousands of inmates have been transferred to private prisons and detention centers, says the Wall Street Journal.

As of the middle of 2007, private prisons housed 7.4 percent of the country's 1.59 million incarcerated adults in federal and state prisons, up from 1.57 million in 2006.  Prison-policy experts expect inmate population in 10 states to have increased by 25 percent or more between 2006 and 2011:

  • Corrections Corp. -- the largest U.S. private-prison operator -- has built 2 prisons this year, expanded 9 and plans to finish 2 more in 2009.
  • It put 1,680 new beds into service in its third quarter, helping boost net income 14 percent o $37.9 million.
  • California has shipped more than 5,100 inmates to Corrections prisons in Arizona and Mississippi since 2006; an additional 2,900 prisoners are scheduled to be transferred by the end of next year.
  • Geo Group -- the second-largest prison company -- has built or expanded 8 facilities this year in Georgia, Texas and Mississippi, and it plans 7 more expansions by 2010.
  • The Federal Bureau of Prisons, the government agency that operates all federal prisons and manages the handling of inmates convicted of federal crimes, has awarded 13 contracts since 1997 to prison companies to build prisons and detention centers that house low-security inmates, primarily "low security criminal aliens."

Outsourcing incarceration can reduce a government's cost of housing prisoners by as much as 15 percent and private operators say they can build prisons more quickly and operate them less expensively because their payroll and building costs are lower.

However, some groups accuse the private prisons of neglecting inmates or of putting them in bad conditions, and the American Civil Liberties Union has even filed lawsuits.

Nevertheless, private prisons are a short-term solution while the government works on long-term solutions, rehabilitation programs and recidivism strategies, says the Journal.

Source: Stephanie Chen, "Larger Inmate Population Is Boon to Private Prisons," Wall Street Journal, November 18, 2008.

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