NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 10, 2009

Despite throwing lots of taxpayer money at the prison system, Washington state doesn't have enough room for all the people sentenced to prison, and the problem is only going to get worse as the state's prison population continues to grow, says the Evergreen Freedom Foundation.  Compounding the problem is the fact that building more prisons is a very expensive way of dealing with crime, especially in light of the state's current budget hardships.

Faced with overcrowding and a tight budget, Washington state lawmakers should consider authorizing private prison contracting:

  • By harnessing the power of competition and the innovation of the free market, competitive contracting could deliver quality service with a lower price tag.
  • Allowing private contractors to compete for prison construction and management contracts does not mean giving over control of prisoners to big corporations.
  • Sentencing and oversight would still be managed by the state, but taxpayers would benefit from the competitive aspect introduced by private competition.

Private prisons are nothing new.  Since 1984, many states have successfully implemented competitive contracting programs.  In fact, for years the Evergreen Freedom Foundation has advocated competitive bidding when it comes to the state's prison system.

In a December 2007 study by the Vanderbilt Institute for Public Policy Studies, evidence indicates that states can save a substantial amount of money if they use a shared system of both privately and publicly managed prisons:

  • The research showed that during the study period (1999-2004), states were able to save up to $15 million on their yearly corrections budgets by using at least some privately managed prisons.
  • Likewise, EFF's 2007 report, "Unlocking Washington's Prison Capacity Shortfall," recommends a public-private approach to the increasingly costly businesses of jailing criminals.

Lawmakers shouldn't confine themselves to thinking inside the box.  Public safety is a core function of government, and a public-private partnership where the state remains in charge of sentencing and oversight is an idea that should be set free for the benefit of taxpayers and residents.

Source: Editorial, "Partially Privatize Prisons," Evergreen Freedom Foundation, February 7, 2009.

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