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The Extent, History, and Role of Private Companies in the Delivery of Correctional Services in the United States

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Publication Date: November 2002

Publisher(s): Reason Foundation

Author(s): Geoffrey F. Segal

Topic: Justice (Prisons and correctional facilities and personnel)

Type: Report


Corrections is one of the fastest-growing state budget items. In the last 15 years, state spending on corrections grew more than 350 percent, compared to 250 percent growth for spending on public welfare and 140 percent growth for spending on education. More than one-third of the states devote 5 percent or more of their spending to corrections. DOCs at the federal, state, and local level should closely examine how and by what standards the private sector can be involved in their corrections system.

Experience with privatization to date shows that it requires care in use, but when properly implemented can deliver quality improvement and cost savings. When goals are properly identified and established, privatization often leads to success. Numerous independent studies show that the quality of private prisons is at least the same level as government prisons, and in most cases improved through privatization. Best practices suggest that cost savings is rarely used as a stand-alone merit for privatization, but when savings is a motivation it can be achieved.