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Private vs. Public: Corrections in America

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Nowadays more and more businessmen prefer to invest their money in some public establishments; thus, the country becomes more privatized, prisons are not excluded. According to the statistics, there are more than six million prisoners in the United States of America. This number is much higher than in other developed countries, but also it is five times higher than it was in the United States in 1980. That is why, it is very important to make comfortable living conditions for all the prisoners. The country and state budgets sometimes are not enough; thus, private prisons became more and more widespread all over the country. This paper is aimed to show that private prisons are more profitable than public ones and that government should help to maintain private prisons. Besides, this paper will include an overview of the most important researches, which prove that private prisons are much better than the public ones. On the other hand, it is possible for the government to make a public prison as good as a private one, not only by investing more money, but also by taking care of the prisoners and paying some attention to their problems. This research is very important for the representatives of correction institutions of the United States of America, because advantages and disadvantages of private prisons will be explained here, which will make it possible to better public correctional institutions. It is very important to unite all the strength points of private and public prisons and make one kind of correction institutions, which may become perfect not only for government with its security system, but also for every prisoner, who will finally receive proper living conditions. This paper is aimed to show all the advantages of private correction institutions; to explain that public correctional institutions may be sometimes even better than the private ones, because private prisons also have their disadvantages. Besides, this research will contain the explanation of the main types of privatization of prisons, which may be useful for the businessmen, who are willing to sign a contract with the government authorities and become an owner of a private prison.

Literature Review

There are not many researches made on this topic; however, there are several important scholar researches. In 1999, the book “Prisons in America: A Reference Handbook” was published, and it became one of the most important works in this field. This book was written by Nicole H. Rafter and Debra L. Stanley, who are criminalists; thus, they are qualified specialists in studying prisons and prisoners. This book

“provides information on the penal system. Although its intent is to be a practical guide to contemporary practices, there is a good historical survey of the system from colonial period to the present. Issues and controversies are enumerated and philosophical purposes of incarceration are examined” (Blazek, Perrault, 2003).

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This book contains an overview of the punishment system in the United States of America, beginning form the colonial times and finishing nowadays. Besides, there is a chronology of the most important events in the system of punishment and incarceration in the country. There important prison problems are outlined there; for example, overcrowding or operational costs. The book begins with outlining the most important stages of the development of punishment system and evolution of prisons. Also there are explained such issues as modern prisons, their size, crowding, costs, and administrative problems, which are critical not only for the prison authorities but also for the government. The second chapter includes philosophical explanations about the most important and urgent problems of the modern prisons. Besides, it contains the explanations of

“controversial sentencing issues, including three-strikes legislation and units for special populations such as inmates with AIDS and the criminally insane; it also reviews penal trends, programs, and services” (Rafter, Stanley, 1999).

The third chapter is devoted to the history of developing the prison system in the United States of America and the most important events. The fourth one outlines the most influential persons in the history of the prison development, and their contribution to its development.

“Documents excerpted in the fifth chapter include the U.S. Constitution, court cases involving prisoner rights, and other writings that have had an impact on the regulation of prisons over time. The last three chapters are essential resources for readers and include a directory or professional organizations and agencies and lists of print and non-print resources” (Rafter, Stanley, 1999).

The second book, which is essential in this study, is the one published in 1996, by Williams and McShane, “Encyclopedia of American Prisons”. This book contains the most important issues about American prisons, information about correction institutes, punishment system and imprisoning. This book is the first one, where the incarceration in the United States of America is outlined; it provides the readers with the fullest information about the judgment and imprisoning system of the country, which was given by the experts.

“who offer historical perspectives, insights into how and why the present prison system developed, where we are today, and where we are likely to be in the future. Every important aspect of American prison is covered, from the handling of convicts with AIDS to juvenile delinquents behind bars, from boot camps to life without parole, from racial conflictsto sexual exploitation” (Williams, McShane, 1996).

These two books explain how important prisons became for the life of the modern society; that their history is tightly connected to the society’s life and people, who are outside the bars. It is very important to understand that both public and private prisons became homes for some; that is why they should be maintained properly.


It is very significant to understand that prison privatization has become one of the most important and wide spread processes in the modern society life: every year more and more prisons and other correctional institutions are privatized; thus, the prisoners get better life conditions than they had before. Before talking about advantages and disadvantages of private prisons, it is very important to understand and have a brief overview of the history of such privatization; one should understand the roots of this process and where it comes from. The first prisons in the United States of America were privatized back in the times that followed the Civil War. At that time prisoners of the federal correction institutes were released for the companies to work in mines or plants. On the other hand, it was a great profit for the state government, because their salary was paid to the state budget. The year 1981 became the time, when Florida became the first state in the country, where all the prisons were privatized.

            Privatization of public prisons is of the two types:

-          Contracting some services, for example medical care, food, maintaining public prisons;

-          Government agencies sign contract with private companies, which control the process of building and designing prisons and oversee the process of operations there.

      However, Richard C. Brooks, the author of the research “Privatization of Government Services:  An Overview and Review of the Literature” states that there are other types of privatization:

-          Complete Privatization;

-          Privatization of Operations;

-          Use of Contracts;

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-          Franchising;

-          Open Competition.

Complete privatization is a type of privatization, when federal or state institution, for example correction institution, is sold to a private company.

This type of privatization not only confers assets but also the related responsibilities of ownership to the private sector” (Varner, 2006).

Privatization on operations is the second type of privatization of public correctional institutions. Such type of owning a prison means that a company owns only the part of prison or other correctional institution that is responsible for operating the prisoners’ work and life conditions. Contracting out is a type of privatization, when a company is allowed to produce items. Franchising is a type of privatization, when a company is granted the right to produce some item in the specific area. The last type of privatization is open competition, which means that every company competes with others for customers.

There are different types of selling such a state institution:

“The government sells shares of the government run company which can then be traded on various stock markets.  Share issue privatization has been the most prevalent method used, though a developed secondary market is necessary.  The second method is through asset sale privatization.  In this method, the whole firm or asset is sold to an investor.  This is usually done by auction.  The final method is voucher privatization in which shares of ownership are distributed to all citizens for free or for a very low price” (Varner, 2006).

In the last century the amount of prisons and other correction institutions have increased; thus, it became too expensive to maintain all of them only for the tax payments. That is why privatization is a good option for the government to save the money of citizens. The list of advantages and disadvantages of privatization of the correctional institutions may become very long but the main advantages are:

- Cost. It is much cheaper for the government to pay for the company, which maintains a prison, than to maintain a prison on their own, from a state or federal budget. The main reason for that is that the cost of prisoners’ work is much lower than of the work of an average citizen, mostly because a prisoner will not be paid money for overtime work, or other benefits;

- Performance. Private prisons provide prisoners with better living conditions than the public ones, because each company fears to lose such contract. This also means that prisoners in private correction institutions feel safer and the rehabilitation of such prisoners back to the society is more effective; they have more opportunities to leave a prison and have normal life after that without coming back to a prison;

- Dependency. Government may become dependent on a comppany that maintains a prison, because it is much cheaper; thus, it is more profitable for the government, because such a company saves budget money;

- Transparency. It is very important because government is supposed to be transparent of everything that is happening in a prison, to make sure that prison staff are doing everything properly, and treat prisoners according to their status. Private prisons do not have such a strong system of transparency; that is why sometimes prisoners may be treated in a poorly and not appropriate way;

- Space. A prison built by a private company has more spaces, which means that a prisoner may have his or her own cell, which is much bigger than a one in a public prison. This decreases the amount of attacks of prisoners; they become less aggressive, because they have much space for their own;

- Budget Predictions. It is known what staff will be needed for maintaining a private prison, besides, if there will be no proper amount of workers a company that maintains a prison may provide it with the needed amount of staff. That is why a government agency may predict expenses and cash outflows for such a prison;

-  Land usage. Not every state has enough space for building large prisons, but a company may provide some more space for enlarging prison space; thus, the prisoners will have more space on their own, which is another advantage;

“For example, a large open enclosed room can function both as a gym and have the ability to be quickly converted into a dormitory type setting in a minimal security environment. The argument against private prisons is the regulation and restriction the private prison could place on the types of inmates it would accept, taking more inmates with lesser offenses compared to more serious ones” (Bledsoe, n.d.).

-  Job Creation. When a person is released for a public, he or she has no job and the only way out is to commit a crime to come back to the prison. On the other hand, if a person is released from a private prison, where he or she had a job, a former prisoner may come back to work for the same company, but as a free person. This helps prisoners to feel better in the society and to become good citizens. The only disadvantage of such job creation is that government may not allow building a prison near private facilities, where ordinary workers live. Besides, there can be some disagreements between the ordinary workers and prisoners, who work for the company; that is why it is important for the company to provide such working conditions that prisoners do not meet ordinary free workers;

-  Market failures. There are almost no opportunities for an ordinary company that runs out of business and goes bankrupt to rehabilitate. But if a company that maintains a prison is out of business and goes bankrupt, the government will provide to it some money from budget or federal funds, which will help this company to renew the business.

There are not so many disadvantages of private prisons, which make them more profitable than the public ones. However, there are some of the disadvantages, which are worth being mentioned:

- Methods of awarding contracts. Every company is willing to maintain a prison, mostly because they have their profits. On the other hand, there are not so much prisons in the United States of America; that is why there is a great competition. However, a company may provide state authorities with one plan of maintaining a prison, but in reality the situation may become different because the company’s authorities want to save some money.


This paper was aimed to explain the main advantages and disadvantages of private prisons, which become more and more popular and widespread all over the country. This task was achieved and it was shown that there are more advantages than disadvantages in such kind of owning a public prison by a private company. Besides, the paper contains the literature review of the two main books concerning the topic of development of the prison system in the United States of America. Besides, this research paper includes brief explanation of the five main types of privatization. To my mind, all the aims that were set in the introduction were achieved. It is very important to mention that all the advantages described in the paper may become the advantages of any public prison, if the state authorities pay more attention to the living conditions of prisoners and their future after releasing from a prison. It is very important to understand that prisoners should have proper living and working conditions; they should feel like the ordinary members of the society. Modern society is eager to label everyone: either it is a rich or poor person; everyone in the society has his or her own label which is almost always not appropriate. That is why not only private correction institutions, but also the public ones, should take care of prisoners not only when he or she is behind the bars, but also after releasing, because every former prisoner should become a proper member of the society without a fear of being labeled till the end of his or her life. This paper was aimed to show and outline the main types of private prisons, the main types of contracts that may be signed between government authorities and private entrepreneurs, and the most important advantages and disadvantages of private prisons. All the goal set in the introduction were achieved, and it was proven that a private correction institution is much better than a public one, that is much profitable for the government because prisoners get better living and working conditions and money of the citizens will be saved.

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