Saturday, May 21, 2011

Private Prison Cost Savings in Question

As Ohio looks to privatize prisons to save money a recent New York Times article reveals that privatization may be more costly than state run prisons.

Competing studies — some financed by the prison industry — have argued over claims of savings. According to the Times, a University of Utah team including Russ Van Vleet, the former co-director of the University of Utah Criminal Justice Center reviewed years of research, it concluded in 2007 that “cost savings from privatizing prisons are not guaranteed and appear minimal.”

“There’s a perception that the private sector is always going to do it more efficiently and less costly,” Van Vleet told the Times, “But there really isn’t much out there that says that’s correct.”

In Arizona were the state has operated private prisons, and wants to expand,the data suggests that privately operated prisons can cost more to operate than state-run prisons — even though they often steer clear of the sickest, costliest inmates.

Despite an Arizona law stipulating that private prisons must create “cost savings,” the state’s own data indicate that inmates in private prisons can cost as much as $1,600 more per year, while many cost about the same as they do in state-run prisons, according to the Times.

The research, by the Arizona Department of Corrections, also reveals a murky aspect of private prisons that helps them appear less expensive: They often house only relatively healthy inmates. The private prisons, like many half-way houses, have the ability contractually to reject inmates. The rejected inmates are often those with disability, disease, geriatric and mental illness.

Removing those inmates from private prison and keeping them in state run prisons--drives down private costs and increases state costs. Therefore and quick look at private versus public gives a skewed view of what is really happening.

Ohio should proceed with caution as it examines prison privatization.

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