Are Privatized Prisons the Problem?

Mass Incarceration is a big deal. But there is a lot more going on with the prison system than meets the eye.

Robby Soave, Associate Editor at, explores the question of whether or not private prisons are the main reason for the unnaturally large prison population.   

Top Comments ( View All 4 Comments )
1 year ago at 12:06 PM

I believe the blame placed on private prisons as an impetus for higher incarceration rates is vastly out of proportion to their actual effect. As explained in the video, private prisons make up a relatively small portion of total prison space and incarceration rates started their upward trend before private prisons became widespread. So, to answer the question of whether privatize[d] prisons are “the” problem (assuming “the” implies being the primary problem), the answer is no. (And I would also suggest that “privatized” is misleading as it’s not the case that the prisons themselves were formerly run by the state and then sold to the highest bidder; private prison facilities are generally built by the private parties who later run them.)

What really should be pointed out and cannot be emphasized enough is that the employees of public prisons have similar incentives as owners of private prisons when it comes to the perverse incentives exclusively attributed to private prisons. Correctional officers unions lobby for prison construction and stiffer criminal penalties and then lobby against criminal justice reform as the problem they helped create becomes more obvious. They have been very successful in California, where one out of six state employees works for the correctional system and it’s not uncommon for correctional officers to make six-digit salaries. Thus, we should set aside these naive ideas that private prisons are somehow uniquely bad.

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1 year ago at 9:25 AM

Refreshing the page shows that I did not get credit for watching this video from the comments page or get credit for the first comment I placed on this video. There are problems with the mechanism in some way.

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1 year ago at 9:24 AM

I could not watch this vid from the main page, but it did work through the comment page. That is strange and needs to be fixed.

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1 year ago at 9:18 AM

When prisons have become private, the population went up. Judges have been convicted of getting kickbacks from prison corporations.
As far as needing private prisons because of capacity issues, that is because politicians have been lobbied / bribed to not fund building of government facilities in order to allow privatization to come in and make a profit.

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