68 Fed. Probation 27 (2004)
Private and Public Sector Prisons - A Comparison of Select Characteristics

handle is hein.journals/fedpro68 and id is 27 raw text is: June 2004
Prv     t a   n     Pu     li   Se   to     Prio      s
A   Co      p   rio       of  Seec       Ch    rcersis
Curtis R. Blakely, University of South Alabama
Vic W Bumphus, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

WITH TH E ADVENT of get-tough sanctions,
the demand for prison space is great. As state
and federal facilities are forced to operate at
or above capacity, solutions are increasingly
being sought from the private sector. One
solution that has gained increased popularity
is the privatization of the prison. A private
prison is a facility that incarcerates offenders
for profit. Recent figures from the Bureau
of Justice Statistics indicate that about 7%
(94,948) of America's state and federal pris-
oners are incarcerated in privately operated
prisons (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2002).
By all accounts, this trend is expected to con-
tinue. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Pris-
ons has announced its intention to increase
the number of federal prisoners housed in
private facilities to an anticipated 20,000
within the next few years (Camp et al., 2002:
28). This suggests that correctional privatiza-
tion will continue to gain momentum (GAO,
1996: 3; Welch, 2000: 82).
The increased momentum of prison
privatization makes it vital to determine if the
private sector ascribes to similar or different
ideologies than those that have traditionally
driven public operations. This determination
is valuable since the objectives of the con-
temporary prison are increasingly ambigu-
ous (Garland, 1990: 3). The lack of a clearly
defined ideology is resulting in a growing
sense of doubt and dissatisfaction with mod-
ern penal practice. Thus, our nation's prisons
and correctional departments adhering to a
variety of ideologies that make the system
appear more philosophically disjointed than
in the past. This confusion not only exists
at the institutional level but is also prevalent
among prison employees. Garland notes that

prison employees have historically been able
to justify various practices by placing them
within established ideological frameworks.
However, those now employed in the prison
are left with little direction or even a widely
accepted justification for their efforts. By con-
sidering prison privatization, insight can be
obtained about the role of the contemporary
prison (both private and public) as well as
the role that a profit ideology may play in the
future application of punishment.
Privatization: A History
Prison privatization is historically grounded
(Cohen, 1985: 63; Lichtenstein, 2001: 189).
Similar practices were common in parts of
Europe during the seventeenth century, hav-
ing their birth in Amsterdam and Hamburg
(Spierenburg, 1998: 66). Simon observes that
in Europe, it was possible to obtain public
authority to confine troublesome people in
private facilities (1993: 22). The operators
of these facilities sought profit and self-suf-
ficiency by charging fees for admittance and
discharge, food and water, and even lodging
(Austin & Coventry, 2001: 9; Lichtenstein,
2001: 193). Sellin, too, notes that early prisons
sought financial profitability (1958: 11).
Cohen traces the roots of contemporary
privatization to the 1960's when there arose
a social desire to divest[ing] the state of
certain control functions (1985: 31). This
movement is also being fueled by a grow-
ing dissatisfaction with government and its
inability to fulfill its correctional responsi-
bilities (Austin & Coventry, 2001: 9; Cohen,
1985: 35; Jacobs, 2001: 184; Lichtenstein,
2001: 191). The recent trend to privatize pris-
ons began in earnest in 1984 when Hamilton

County, Tennessee and Bay County, Florida
entered into contracts with the private sector.
Currently, 158 private correctional facilities
operate in 31 states (Thomas, 2000).
The shift from a publicly operated correc-
tional system to one that contains a corporate
component has led to concerns about an
inherent conflict between public and private
interests (Christie, 2000: 149; Logan, 1990).
This concern hinges upon the belief that
profit will be of greater importance to the
private sector than the constitutional, ethi-
cal, or fair treatment of its inmates and staff.
Some scholars have even suggested that the
pursuit of profit may be done through sub-
stantial cuts in staffing, training, and ancillary
services (Brister, 1996; Logan, 1996; Thomas,
1996;). Since labor accounts for approximate-
ly 70% of all prison expenses, the secret to
low-cost operations is to have the minimum
number of officers watching the maximum
number of inmates (Austin & Coventry,
2001: xi & 16; Welch, 2000: 82). Thus, con-
ventional wisdom suggests that the private
sector will operate at or above capacity and
employ proportionately fewer staff than does
the public sector.
Furthermore, the movement to privatize
prisons is reflective of a larger socio-eco-
nomic and political movement occurring
worldwide. Referred to as neo-liberalism
corporations involved in this movement
embrace a capitalistic fervor that seeks the
abolition of government intervention and
the expansion of economic free enterprise
(Martinez & Garcia, 2000: 1; Passas, 2000: 21;
Starr, 1988: 8). This desire to expand into new
avenues of profit has lead corporations to
consider prison operations. It is the possibil-

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