Today we talk about a milestone in the saga of privatization.
The Private Prison Edition
The Federal government announced a gradual phase out of the use of private prisons. It turns out that studies show that the government run prisons do a much better job, a much, much better job, as the investigative report cited below conclusively proves.
This may be a turning point in the neo-liberal privatization story. For years, decades, we’ve been told that everything the government does can be done better by private business. Usually this discussion centers around quasi-religious claims of the free-marketers, you know, some Ayn Rand stuff with scary collectivists and greed being the greatest and most wonderful human impulse of all time. It gives you a sense of how awful it would be to be trapped on a long flight trapped against the window with a free market zealot sitting right next to you.
This may be it, the turning points – the place where people say, “Hey, these private companies promised us the moon and we got worse what they wanted to replace – what gives?”
“What gives?” is the simple lie that private industry can always outperform the government. That’s nonsense. Sometimes, you have subjects that don’t lend themselves well to the profit motive like war and health care. The private sector moves in, scoops up the money and the you’re left with a disaster. Probably, a private company might make a better uniform or provide a service but the government does not always seek to make a profit, sometimes it needs to win a war or make sick people well. For profit making both war and sickness need to last as long as possible but for the sake of the nation we need victory and health.
But in spite of the economic disasters of the last decade, neo-liberalism’s adherents are not discouraged. They’ll be back. They’ll have a think tank make up some studies, hire a couple of ivy league economists to explain the beauty and purity of the free market and how the government must in theory not work well. They’ll say, “Just give us a few billion dollars and watch the money roll in.” Just like they always do.
And we need to be there to say no.
Yates said in her memo that research had found private prisons “simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources” and “do not save substantially on costs” either. Essential government education and training programs for prisoners “have proved difficult to replicate and outsource” in the private sector, she said.
The decision was announced days after the Department of Justice’s inspector general released a damning investigation report. It found instances of inmate-on-inmate assaults were 28% higher in contract prisons than in government-run facilities, and that the confiscation of contraband mobile phones occurred eight times more frequently.
Federal inmates in private prisons were found to be nine times more likely to be placed on lockdown than those at other federal prisons, and were frequently subjected to arbitrary solitary confinement.
For the most part, however, the report lays out a much more mundane case against private prisons. The private facilities failed, in large part, not because of high profile incidents — but because, compared to their government-run counterparts, they simply weren’t good at running a correctional facility. In this battle between socialism and the free market, socialism clearly won.
After the Inspector General’s office evaluated prisons along eight different categories, it found that private facilities underperformed government-run prisons in six of them. “Contract prisons,” the report explains, “had more frequent incidents per capita of contraband finds, assaults, uses of force, lockdowns, guilty findings on inmate discipline charges, and selected categories of grievances.”
Still, where private prisons do exist, they seem to pose extraordinary problems.
The OIG report isn’t the first to indicate that private prisons are worse off, although it is the most recent one. A 2001 report from the Department of Justice found the rate of inmate-on-inmate violence at private prisons was 38 percent higher than the rate at public prisons. And in a four-month undercover investigation, reporter Shane Bauerwitnessed high levels of violence — particularly stabbings, which seemingly went underreported in official numbers — and lockdowns at a private prison in Louisiana.