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Why Prison Privatization is Bad: A Case Study

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By Melissa Weinstein Explore the Issues Privatization

What happens when corporations and governments cut corners when it comes to prisons to make a profit and supposedly save money? Public safety suffers and public service employees and the people they serve are put at risk.

AFSCME has always been against outsourcing of public services, and the lower pay, unsafe working conditions, meager benefits and lack of job security that come with it. For the public, outsourcing brings its own consequences.

A recent New York Times article featured a graphic video of an inmate at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility being assaulted by other inmates with no guards showing up for 30 minutes to help.

According to the Times, “The genesis of the problems at East Mississippi, according to prisoner advocates, is that the state requires private prisons to operate at 10 percent lower cost than state-run facilities. Even at its state-run institutions, Mississippi spends significantly less on prisoners than most states, a fact that state officials once boasted about.”

This is a prime example of why outsourcing public services to private companies is so dangerous. When corporations and cities try to save money by outsourcing public services to private companies, the result is often poorly-trained and poorly compensated employees. And the services that are offered suffer as a result.

The Times writes, “Frank Shaw, the warden of the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, could not guarantee that the prison was capable of performing its most basic function. Asked if the guards were supposed to keep inmates in their cells, he said, wearily, ‘They do their best.’”

These weren’t isolated instances of neglect at East Mississippi. According to the Times, “a mentally ill man on suicide watch hanged himself, gang members were allowed to beat other prisoners, and those whose cries for medical attention were ignored resorted to setting fires in their cells.”

This case underscores the much larger, systemic problems that result from prison outsourcing and privatization.

As AFSCME notes in this fact sheet, “Private prisons are more dangerous for inmates and staff, and often fail to deliver the savings they promise. Yet, despite their track record of failure, private prison companies continue to secure contracts, spending millions on lobbyists and campaign donations to influence elected officials.”

Recent AFSCME Now coverage of the problems with private prisons can be found here, here and here.