Prison privatization is not just a U.S. phenomenon, but rather a management tool used in numerous other countries, including Australia and the U.K. And while the location may vary, the public policy issues surrounding private prisons are very similar. Hence, there is an opportunity for U.S. policymakers to learn from their counterparts overseas, particularly given the growing interest in prison privatization in U.S. states as they grapple with major fiscal issues and work to rein in inflating corrections budgets.
In this context, a recently released New South Wales (Australia) Parliament report on prison privatization couldn't have come at a better time. Prepared by a general purpose Parliamentary committee, the report details the results of the committee's inquiry into the privatization of prisons and prison-related services in NSW, covering such topics as cost savings, public safety and escape rates, rehabilitation programs, staffing levels and the impact of privatization on publicly managed prisons.
The 228-page report (available here) is quite thorough and largely positive on prison privatization, well worth a read for anyone interested in the subject. Here are a few of the inquiry's more relevant findings:
- [W]e are confident that the private management of prisons will also likely produce greater cost savings and efficiencies than if they were to remain in the public system.
- [T]he Committee notes that the evidence received suggests that the privatisation of correctional facilities can assist in achieving the primary objectives of the operation of the prison system, which are: 1. fulfilling the principles of sentencing; 2. improving inmate welfare and; 3. lowering rates of recidivism in a cost effective manner.
- The Committee notes the concerns raised by prison officers and their families. It is clear that for many staff affected by the decision to privatise, none of the three options available to them are satisfactory, and many prison officers will be left with no choice other than to accept a disadvantageous option. Whilst this is not a desirable outcome, the Committee emphasizes that the primary goals of the operation of a prison system are to...(see list above).
- Based on the evidence provided during this Inquiry, the Committee is satisfied that there is no evidence to suggest that assaults on inmates and/or staff are likely to increase as a result of privatisation.
- The Committee notes that inmate allocation is a matter for government, and not a decision of the private contractor [...] [W]e are satisfied that there is no evidence that privatisation of prisons will result in overcrowding.
- The Committee notes that the Department determines inmate classifications, and makes its decisions independently of private operators. Therefore we do not believe that privatisation will impact upon classification levels.
- The Committee notes that government regulation has a primary role to play in ensuring appropriate staff training standards and qualifications exist in both publicly and privately run prisons. On the evidence presented, the Committee is satisfied that concerns raised regarding the level of training and professionalism of prison officers at private institutions in Australia are misconceived. [...] The Committee believes that training and qualification requirements must be applied consistently in all prisons, regardless of whether they are run by DCS or a private provider.
- [T]he majority of the Committee supports the introduction of competition into the public sector due to the innovations and efficiencies it brings. We note the range of innovations outlined in evidence, and the corresponding effect that they have had on the public system through cross-fertilisation.
These findings are generally consistent with Reason Foundation's corrections-related work, which is available here