Policy Study

Public-Private Partnerships for Corrections in California

Bridging the gap between crisis and reform

Full Study
Policy Summary

With a correctional system strained by severe overcrowding, a state fiscal crisis and a recent federal order to reduce the prison population by over 40,000 inmates, there are no silver bullet solutions to California’s prison crisis. Even if a combination of early releases, home detention of low-risk inmates and changes to sentencing and parole rules could allow the state to achieve compliance with the federal order in the short term, there would still be major capacity needs over the long term, as the state would still be operating at 137% of prison system design capacity. Further, the state’s ongoing budget crisis demands immediate attention to reduce the unsustainable costs of existing operations; at over $47,000, annual spending per inmate in California is currently over 50% higher than the national average.

Public-private partnerships (PPPs) offer a powerful policy option as part of a comprehensive strategy to address California’s corrections crisis. Soliciting and implementing PPPs would give policymakers a powerful tool to lower prison operating costs and deliver additional inmate beds to address the severe overcrowding seen today in state prisons.

PPPs provide an effective, cost-saving alternative for governments seeking to address significant capacity needs while taking pressure off their corrections budgets. Studies have consistently shown that privately run correctional facilities typically save a conservative range of 5 to 15% over state-run prisons while offering the same level of security and service and easing overcrowding in state-run prisons.

[Note: On June 29, 2010 page 30 of this report was corrected to accurately reflect the type of violent incidents cited in Bureau of Justice Statistics research and to correct a typographical error in Table 8.]