Public Vs. Private Correctional Facilities

••• prison image by Albert Lozano from

As a taxpayer you may want to pay less for housing inmates, and you might think a private correctional facility can do that, since they are run more like a business and thus tasked with showing a profit. But you likely want the security of knowing that trained law-enforcement personnel will be supervising the inmates in your city or state. But that costs money and would require public law-enforcement to be involved in a private business.


Congress dictated, through a 1997 appropriations act, that the Department of Justice had to participate in a prison project. The project consisted of the government owning--but contracting out operation responsibilities--of a new federal prison located in Taft, California, to a private company. A contract was awarded to Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, a private correctional business. And the entire project was meant to determine if it was better to let government house and supervise prisoners or if private businesses could do it as well and cheaper.

Read More: Filing a Lawsuit Against a Correctional Facility


While public and private correctional facilities basically have the same features--cells and shower facilities, correctional personnel for supervision purposes and rooms for eating, recreation, visitation and medical treatment--there are differences. The main differences between the two facilities is that the private facility is not operated by the government, not staffed with law-enforcement personnel, not held accountable to the public and it can be operated as a profit-making business without fear of interference by outside entities or legislative bodies.


The function of both public and private facilities is to incarcerate inmates in the most cost-effective and rehabilitative way possible, as well as to maintain protection for society through effective prevention of prisoner escapes. To that end, private correctional facilities were proven, by the Department of Justice's Board of Prison's FY 1997 mandate results, to not be as cost-effective as their public counterparts and to not maintain as secure a facility against prison escapes, or to be as effective a rehabilitation process as those operated by the public sector.


Since private correctional facilities are not any better at reducing taxpayer cost for prison operations, the incentive for entrusting the protection of citizens--and the rehabilitation of inmates--to a private business instead of one operated by law enforcement and the federal government is not warranted--and could prove dangerous to the public at large.


Just because a private business may enter into a contractual agreement with the federal government or state to house inmates in a private correctional facility, that does not make that business an authorized law-enforcement entity. And if an inmate escapes from their facility, it would be law-enforcement personnel in that area who would be tasked with capturing the inmate--not the private correctional facility.

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