Some states, such as Arizona, are considering privatizing certain prisons. The usual argument for doing this is based on money. It is claimed that privatizing the prisons will decrease costs and increase revenues for the state.
On the one hand, there is the stock argument that the government is inherently inefficient and that the private sector can do a far better job. On this view, privatization will have the desired effect by replacing the poor government management with the profit generating competence of the private sector. It is claimed that the effectiveness of the private sector will generate enough income so that the private company will make money and have enough to provide the state with a profit as well.
On the other hand, this sort of claim seems dubious. After all, it would seem that the state could simply see what a private company would do and do just that, thus avoiding the the need to split the profits with a private company. Even if the state was somewhat less effective than the private companies, not having to share the profits would compensate for this. Of course, it could be argued that the state is, by its very nature, incapable of such efficiency-but the burden of proof rests on those who make this claim. After all it seems that anything a private company can do, the state could also do. It seems most likely that the privatization of prisons would be rather profitable for the private companies, but not so for the states.
Another concern is a moral one, namely that the privatization of prisons is likely to do more harm than good. First, in order to make a profit that can be shared with the state, the prisons would need to make a profit that is not based on getting paid by the state. This would seem to lead to the exploitation of prisoners. Of course, if using prisoners to make a profit is acceptable, then the state could do the same thing-thus removing the need for the privatization. Second, since the profits a company makes would correspond to the number of people in prison, they would have an incentive to lobby for longer sentences, tougher laws and other means of increasing the prison populations. This, of course, would be unjust-people would be sentenced not based on the principle of justice but so that profits could be increased. Third, there is an increased risk of corruption. For example, judges might be bribed (as has been done)to send people to prison so as to increase profits.
While there are serious problems with the prison system, privatizing prisons does not seem to be a reasonable solution to these problems-or the financial problems of states.
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