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CNBC Special on "Billions Behind Bars: Inside America's Prisons" explores Prison Privatization

Last night, CNBC aired "Billions Behind Bars: Inside America's Prisons,".  The special focused on the profit motive involved in various aspects of the corrections industry including prison privatization. 

Specifically, the CNBC show explored the relationship between the private sector and government and raised issues on whether private prison contracts are good public policy.

CNBC's website features two articles from Dave Shapiro with the ACLU's National Prison Project and Leonard Gilroy with the Reason Foundation write opposing views on prison privatization. 

Shapiro's piece, For-Profit Prisons: A Barrier to Serious Criminal Justice Reform.  In the article Shapiro charts the growth of the private prison population nationally,

As incarceration rates skyrocket, the private prison industry expands at exponential rates. The number of inmates in private prisons increased by roughly 1600 percent between 1990 and 2009. In 2010, the two largest private prison companies alone took in nearly $3 billion in revenue, and their top executives each received annual compensation packages worth well over $3 million.

Gilroy's article, Embrace Competition to Lower Costs, Improve Performance in Prisons, continues to support the use of private prisons and cites Texas as an example:

research by the Texas Legislative Budget Board found that, since 2003, the average cost of housing inmates in private prisons has been 3 percent to 15 percent lower than in comparable state-run prisons.

Yet we know that other researchers have concluded that the savings achieved from private prisons are not as significant as Gilroy claims.  A 2001 study by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) found that “rather than the projected 20-percent savings, the average saving from privatization was only 1 percent” and “the promises of 20-
percent savings in operational costs have simply not materialized.” The study found that these modest savings “will not revolutionize modern correctional practices.”

The CNBC special is a good overview of different issues related to the money that drives the nation's corrections industry.  It airs again on October 21st at 8pm EDT and program highlights can be found here at the station's website. 

 

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