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Private prison
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A private prison, jail, or detention center is a place in which individuals are physically confined or interned by a
third party that is contracted by a local, state or federal government agency. Private prison companies typically
enter into contractual agreements with local, state, or federal governments that commit prisoners and then pay a
per diem or monthly rate for each prisoner confined in the facility.

Today, the privatization of prisons refers both to the takeover of existing public facilities by private operators and
to the building and operation of new and additional prisons by for-profit prison companies.

1 Private prisons in the United Kingdom
1.1 History of private prisons in the United Kingdom
1.2 Private prisons in the United Kingdom today
1.3 Criticisms
2 Private prisons in the United States
2.1 Early history of prison privatization in the United States
2.2 Development of private prisons in the United States
2.3 Private prisons in the United States today
2.4 Cost/Benefit analysis
2.5 Criticisms
2.6 Attempts to limit privatization and increase oversight
3 Private prisons in other countries
4 References
5 External links

Private prisons in the United Kingdom

History of private prisons in the United Kingdom

In the modern era, the United Kingdom was the first country in all of Europe to use private prisons to hold its
prisoners. Wolds Prison opened as the first privately managed prison in the UK in 1992.[1] Soon private prisons
were established under the government's Private Finance Initiative, where contracts are awarded for the entire
design, construction, management and finance of a prison.

Private prisons in the United Kingdom today

Today there are 12 private prisons in the United Kingdom, managed by private companies G4S, Kalyx and Serco.
These prisons are an important part in the UK's prison estate; Bronzefield Prison is the only purpose-built private
prison for women in the United Kingdom, and is the largest female prison in Europe.[2] All private prisons in the
UK are regularly inspected by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons in the same way as public sector prisons.

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All private prisons have a 'Controller' linking them to the Ministry of Justice, and the governors of private prisons
are called 'Directors'.[3]


Not all private prisons in the United Kingdom have been successful. Ashfield Prison opened in 1999 and was the
first private prison in the UK to house young offenders. The prison was soon mired in controversy after repeated
riots and reports of poor management. Conditions at the prison became so bad in 2003 that the Youth Justice
Board withdrew prisoners from Ashfield, and threatened to recommend that the prison should be taken over by the
public sector.[4] Conditions at the prison improved however and the jail remained privately managed. Buckley Hall
Prison was originally opened as a privately managed prison in 1994, but after a competitive tendering process in
2000, management of the prison was transferred to Her Majesty's Prison Service. Buckley Hall is therefore (so far)
the only private prison in the UK to be permanently taken into the public sector.[5]

Private prisons in the United States

Early history of prison privatization in the United States

The privatization movement can be traced to the contracting out of confinement and care of prisoners after the
American Revolution. Deprived of the ability to ship criminals and undesirables to the Colonies, Great Britain
began placing them on hulks moored in English ports. [6]

In the U.S., the first for-profit prison was San Quentin prison in California. Opened in 1852, San Quentin was
constructed and initially operated as a private enterprise. According to Schmalleger and Smykla (2007), “…after a
number of major scandals surfaced surrounding the mismanagement of the facility… California turned San
Quentin prison over to the control of the state government” (p. 552).[7]

The partial transfer of San Quentin prison administration from private to public did not mark the end of
privatization. The next phase began with the Reconstruction Period (1865-1876) in the south, after the end of the
Civil War. Farmers and businessmen needed to find replacements for the labor force once their slaves had been
freed. Beginning in 1868, convict leases were issued to private parties to supplement their workforce.[8][9] This
system remained in place until the early 20th century.

Development of private prisons in the United States

Private sector involvement in United States prisons is not new — federal and state government have had a long
history of contracting out specific services to private firms, including medical services, food preparation,
vocational training, and inmate transportation. The 1980s, though, ushered in a new era of prison privatization.
With a burgeoning prison population resulting from the “war on drugs” and increased use of incarceration, prison
overcrowding and rising costs became increasingly problematic for local, state, and federal governments. In
response to this expanding criminal justice system, private business interests saw an opportunity for expansion,
and consequently, private-sector involvement in prisons moved from the simple contracting of services to
contracting for the complete management and operation of entire prisons.[10]

The modern private prison business first emerged and established itself publicly in 1984 when the Corrections
Corporation of America (CCA) was awarded a contract to take over a facility in Hamilton County, Tennessee.
This marked the first time that any government in the country had contracted out the complete operation of a jail
to a private operator.[11] The following year, CCA gained further public attention when it offered to take over the
entire state prison system of Tennessee for $200 million. The bid was ultimately defeated due to strong opposition

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from public employees and the skepticism of the state legislature.[12] Despite that initial defeat, CCA since then
has successfully expanded, as have other for-profit prison companies. As of December 2000, there were 153
private correctional facilities (prisons, jails and detention centers) operating in the United States with a capacity of
over 119,000[13].

Private prisons in the United States today

Private companies in the United States operate 264 correctional facilities, housing almost 99,000 adult
offenders.[7] Companies operating such facilities include the Corrections Corporation of America, the GEO
Group, Inc, Cornell Companies, and Community Education Centers. The GEO Group was formerly known as
Wackenhut Securities.

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) has a capacity of more than 80,000 beds in 65 correctional facilities.
The GEO Group operates 61 facilities with a capacity of 49,000 offender beds,[14] while Cornell Companies has
79 facilities to service 19,226 adult and juvenile offenders in secure containment and community-based

Most privately run facilities are located in the southern and western portions of the United States and include both
state and federal offenders.[7]

Cost/Benefit analysis

According to an opinion piece by Reason Foundation, private prisons are held to a level of accountability because
they can be fined or fired, unlike their government counterparts.[16]

In a 2008-released study, evidence indicated 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 budget by using at least some
privately managed prisons. The study was overseen by James Blumstein, director of the Health Policy Center,
Vanderbilt Institute for Public Policy Studies. [17]

Studies show that cost savings of 15-25 percent on construction and 10-15 percent on management are
commonplace. According to the U.S. Department of Justice's National Institute of Justice, private prisons have
shown a higher quality or services than those run by public correctional agencies.[18]


Many organizations have called for a moratorium on construction of private prisons, or for their outright abolition.
Several religious denominations have also joined the call, including Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, United
Church of Christ and Presbyterian. [20]

Proponents of privately run prisons contend that cost-savings and efficiency of operation place private prisons at
an advantage over public prisons and support the argument for privatization, but some research casts doubt on the
validity of these arguments, as evidence has shown that private prisons are neither demonstrably more
cost-effective, nor more efficient than public prisons.[10] An evaluation of 24 different studies on
cost-effectiveness revealed that, at best, results of the question are inconclusive and, at worst, there is no
difference in cost-effectiveness.[21]

A study by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics found that the cost-savings promised by private prisons “have

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simply not materialized.”[22] Some research has concluded that for-profit prisons cost more than public prisons.[23]
Furthermore, cost estimates from privatization advocates may be misleading, because private facilities often refuse
to accept inmates that cost the most to house. A 2001 study concluded that a pattern of sending less expensive
inmates to privately-run facilities artificially inflated cost savings.[24] A 2005 study found that Arizona’s public
facilities were seven times more likely to house violent offenders and three times more likely to house those
convicted of more serious offenses.[25]

Evidence suggests that lower staff levels and training at private facilities may lead to increases in incidences of
violence and escapes. A nationwide study found that assaults on guards by inmates were 49 percent more frequent
in private prisons than in government-run prisons. The same study revealed that assaults on fellow inmates were
65 percent more frequent in private prisons.[26]

CCA and The GEO Group are major contributors to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a
Washington, D.C. based public policy organization that develops model legislation that advances tough-on-crime
legislation and free-market principles such as privatization.

Under their Criminal Justice Task Force, ALEC has developed and helped to successfully implement in many
states “tough on crime” initiatives including “Truth in Sentencing” and “Three Strikes” laws. Corporations provide
most of the funding for ALEC’s operating budget and influence its political agenda through participation in policy
task forces. ALEC’s corporate funders include CCA and The GEO Group. In 1999, CCA made the President’s
List for contributions to ALEC’s States and National Policy Summit; Wackenhut also sponsored the conference.
Past cochairs of the Criminal Justice Task Force have included Brad Wiggins, then Director of Business
Development at CCA and now a Senior Director of Site Acquisition, and John Rees, a former CCA vice president.

By funding and participating in ALEC’s Criminal Justice Task Forces, critics argue, private prison companies
directly influence legislation for tougher, longer sentences.[27] The legal system may also be manipulated more
directly: in one case (Mid-Atlantic Youth Services Corp) a private prison company was found guilty of paying two
judges $2.6m to send 2000 children to their prisons.[28] [29]

Attempts to limit privatization and increase oversight

Some U.S. states have imposed bans, population limits, and strict operational guidelines on private prisons:

Banning privatization of state and local facilities—Louisiana enacted a moratorium on private prisons in
2001. Illinois in 1990 (Private Correctional Facility Moratorium Act), and New York in 2000, enacted laws
that ban the privatization of prisons, correctional facilities and any services related to their operation.
Banning speculative private prison construction—For-profit prison companies have built new prisons
before they were awarded privatization contracts in order to lure state contract approval. In 2001,
Wisconsin’s joint budget committee recommended language to ban all future speculative prison construction
in the state. Such anticipatory building dates back to at least 1997, when Corrections Corporation of
America built a 2,000-bed facility in California at a cost of $80–100 million with no contract from the
California Department of Corrections; a CCA official was quoted as saying, "If we build it, they will
Banning exportation and importation of prisoners—To ensure that the state retains control over the
quality and security of correctional facilities, North Dakota passed a bill in 2001 that banned the export of
Class A and AA felons outside the state. Similarly, Oregon allowed an existing exportation law to sunset in
2001, effectively banning the export of prisoners. Several states have considered banning the importation of
prisoners to private facilities.
Requiring standards comparable to state prisons—New Mexico enacted legislation that transfers
supervision of private prisons to the state Secretary of Corrections, ensuring that private prisons meet the
same standards as public facilities. In 2001, Nebraska legislation that requires private prisons to meet public

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prison standards was overwhelmingly approved by the legislature, but pocket-vetoed by the governor.
Oklahoma passed a law in 2005 that requires private prisons to have emergency plans in place and mandates
state notification of any safety incidents.

Private prisons in other countries

In 2004, the Israeli Knesset passed a law permitting the establishment of private prisons in Israel. The State's
motivation was to save money by transferring prisoners to facilities managed by a private firm. The state would
pay the franchisee $50 per day for each inmate, sparing itself the cost of building new prisons and expanding the
staff of the Israel Prison Service. In 2005, the human rights department of the Academic College of Law in Ramat
Gan filed a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court challenging the law. The petition relied on two arguments. First, it
said, transferring prison powers to private hands would violate the prisoners' fundamental human rights to liberty
and dignity. Secondly, a private organization always aims to maximize profit, and would therefore seek to cut costs
by, for instance, skimping on prison facilities and paying its guards poorly, thus further undermining the prisoners'
rights. As the case awaited decision, the first prison was built by the concessionaire, Lev Leviev's Africa Israel - a
facility near Beersheba planned to accommodate 2,000 prisoners.

In November 2009, an expanded panel of 9 judges of the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that privately run prisons are
unconstitutional, finding that for the State to transfer authority for managing the prison to a private contractor
whose aim is monetary profit would severely violate the prisoners' basic human rights to dignity and freedom.
Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch, wrote that "Israel's basic legal principles hold that the right to use force in general,
and the right to enforce criminal law by putting people behind bars in particular, is one of the most fundamental
and one of the most invasive powers in the state's jurisdiction. Thus when the power to incarcerate is transferred to
a private corporation whose purpose is making money, the act of depriving a person of his liberty loses much of its
legitimacy. Because of this loss of legitimacy, the violation of the prisoner's right to liberty goes beyond the
violation entailed in the incarceration itself."[31]

1. ^
2. ^
3. ^
4. ^
5. ^
6. ^ Charles Campbell, "The Intolerable Hulks." (2001)
7. ^ a b c Schmalleger, F., & Smykla, J. (2007, 2005, 2002). Corrections in the 21st Century. New York: McGraw-Hill.
8. ^ Todd, W. (2005). Convict Lease System. In The New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 1, 2006, from
9. ^ Zito, M. (2003, December). Prison Privatization: Past and Present. Retrieved October 1, 2006, from the
International Foundation for Protection Officers Web site:
10. ^ a b The Sentencing Project, "Prison Privatization and the Use of Incarceration" (2004)
11. ^ Good Jobs First, “ Jail Breaks: Economic Development Subsidies Given to Private Prisons,” October 2001, p. 2.
12. ^ Eric Bates, “Private Prisons,” The Nation, Jan. 5, 1998, p. 13.
13. ^ Number of Private Facilities by Geographical Location, 09/04/2001, Dr. Charles W. Thomas, Private Corrections
14. ^ The GEO Group, Inc. (2005). Retrieved October 2, 2006, from
15. ^ Cornell Companies, Inc. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2, 2006, from
16. ^ Florida Benefiting from Prison Privatization (
17. ^ [1] (
18. ^ Private Prisons Have Public Benefits (
19. ^ Center for Policy Alternatives. (n.d.). Privatizing Prisons. Retrieved October 3, 2006, from the Center for Policy

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Alternatives Web site:

20. ^ PCI Religious Statements (
21. ^ Maahs, J. & Pratt, T. (1999). Are Private Prisons More Cost-Effective Than Public Prisons? A Meta-Analysis of
Evaluation Research Studies. Crime & Delinquency, 45(3), 358-371. Retrieved October 2, 2006, from SAGE
22. ^ Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2004,” April 2005.
23. ^ Dennis Cunningham, “Projected FY 2000 Cost of DOC Operated Medium Security Beds Compared to Private
Prison Contracts,” 4th Annual Privatizing Correctional Facilities Conference, September 24, 1999.
24. ^ Policy Matters Ohio, “Selective Celling: Inmate Population in Ohio’s Private Prisons,” May 2001.
25. ^ Kevin Pranis, “Cost-Saving or Cost-Shifting—The Fiscal Impact of Prison Privatization in Arizona,” Private
Corrections Institute, Inc., February 2005.
26. ^ James Austin and Garry Coventry, “Emerging Issues on Privatized Prisons,” Bureau of Justice Assistance, February
27. ^
28. ^ George Monbiot, The Guardian, 3 March 2009, This revolting trade in human lives is an incentive to lock people up
29. ^ [2] (
30. ^ Gunnison, Robert B. (August 1), Privately Run Prison Planned for Mojave: Firm Says It Can House Inmates
Cheaper, San Francisco Chronicle, p. A22
31. ^ article from Haaretz newspaper (

External links
The all-volunteer Private Corrections Institute, a comprehensive source of information on the industry
Corrections Corporation of America web site (
Steel-Town Lockdown, Mother Jones (
Prison Privatisation Report International ( (online editions 2001 - 2006)
Informative article focusing mainly on the privatisation of prisons in the UK (
/articles/prison-privatisation-alive-and-kicking/) from
Texas Prison Bid'ness follows private prison developments in Texas. (
Private Prison Watch, a Texas based prison industry watchdog website.
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Categories: Penal imprisonment | Privatisation

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