This week, a huge prison expansion contract was “won” in Florida by GEO Group, Inc., one of the largest private operators of prisons. This will be the state’s largest for-profit prison in a newly competitive correctional industry.
Private prison operations have recently become an extremely profitable big business. This expanded prison, for instance, is expected to create $28.5 million in yearly profits. The town’s mayor, Charles Holman, told the Tallahassee Democrat, "It's a lifesaver ... It means so much to have these jobs."
Contracting state prison construction and management to private corporations is hailed by some as cost-efficient. Private prisons are required to operate less expensively than state institutions. For example, it will cost the new prison at Graceville $9.33 less per day per inmate than it costs the Florida State Department of Corrections.
How is this money is being saved? Do the private prisons cut back on worker pay and benefits, understaff their facilities, and provide subpar health care and inmate education programs? And does it work? A recent study by the University of Utah’s School of Social Work and Criminal Justice on the subject of private prisons found a 50 percent chance of saving money by going private, a 25 percent chance that the state would actually lose money, and a 25 percent chance that privatization would make no difference.
There are other disturbing issues around for-profit prisons. Will their existence create an incentive to lock more people up? We need to consider how a for-profit industry might have harmful effects on inmate rehabilitation and the overall health of our community.
[Image by gtmcknight]