Recession Causing Prison Problems

PrisonAs many, from CoS Rahm Emanuel to SecState Hillary Clinton, have said—never waste a good crisis. The recession has hit the tax base hard and trash state revenues. State and local budgets are reeling and looking for areas to cut. However, the private sector has the potential not only to limit budget cuts, but provide additional cash for budgets now, all while increasing the quality of state provided services. Consider the corrections industry:

The recession is hitting home for inmates, too: Some cash-strapped states are taking aim at prison menus. Georgia prisoners already didn’t get lunch on the weekends, and the Department of Corrections recently eliminated the midday meal on Fridays, too. Ohio may drop weekend breakfasts and offer brunch instead. Other states are cutting back on milk and fresh fruit.

Officials say prisoners are still getting enough calories, but family members and critics say the changes could make prisoners irritable and food a valuable commodity, increasing the possibility of violence

This is a case where the state doesn’t have to cut back on food service for prisons, a questionable ethical dilemma. Instead Georgia and other states can contract with private sector firms that operate food service for correctional facilities, or they can just contract with firms to run the entire prison.

Privately run prisons have a great track record in America, they have the proper incentive alignment to run quality facilities while reducing the costs to states, not to mention they increase the tax base by turning a public service into a taxable private service. Arizona has taken the concept one step further and introduced legislation that would have prison companies pay the state an upfront fee for the right to contract out prisons. That would provide the state with needed cash for today’s shortfall and save it money over the longer-term course of the contract.

Read more about private prisons here, and look for our coverage of corrections in America in the upcoming Annual Privatization Report 2009.

Also see APR 2008 for news on the value and success of private corrections, and see our privatization coverage.