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Weighing the Watchmen: Evaluating the Costs and Benefits of Outsourcing Correctional Services

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Publication Date: January 2002

Publisher(s): Reason Foundation

Author(s): Adrian T. Moore; Geoffrey F. Segal

Topic: Justice (Prisons and correctional facilities and personnel)

Type: Report


Prison populations in the United States have swelled over the last 20 years. Fiscal constraints at the federal, state, and local levels have left few funds available for the accommodation of new prisoners, and overcrowding is a serious problem at many of the nation's jails and prisons. In response, correctional authorities have turned to the private sector by contracting for the construction, financing, and operation of private prisons. Cost comparisons are only part of the data needed to evaluate the merits of privatization, and the measurable data alone cannot paint the complete picture. The full measure of worth of privatization has to be assessed in a policy context, with full due given the broader goals that can be achieved, including quality and performance. Most important is recognizing that cost savings from privatization is itself a product of competition, and that competition has beneficial effects on the entire system.