Wednesday, September 12

The Perverse Incentive to Keep Our Prisons Full

As a society, we should be working to reduce the number of inmates in our prisons. The current trend toward prison privatization, however, seems to be creating an 'inverted incentive' to keep prisons full.
"At a time when states are struggling to reduce bloated prison populations and tight budgets, a private prison management company is offering to buy prisons in exchange for various considerations, including a controversial guarantee that the governments maintain a 90% occupancy rate for at least 20 years. 
"The $250 million proposal, circulated by the Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America to prison officials in 48 states, has been blasted by some state officials who suggest such a program could pressure criminal justice officials to seek harsher sentences to maintain the contractually required occupancy rates. 
"'You don't want a prison system operating with the goal of maximizing profits,' says Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat and advocate for reducing prison populations through less costly diversion programs. 'The only thing worse is that this seeks to take advantage of some states' troubled financial position.'"
 Private purchasing of prisons locks in occupancy rates (USA Today)