Are Privatized Prisons the Problem?

Release Date
October 20, 2016


Criminal Justice

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.   

Why Is the U.S. Prison Population So Large? (video): Daniel D’Amico explains how the war on drugs has contributed to the US’s massive prison population.
Criminal Justice Reform (video): Don Boudreaux explains how presidential candidates are proposing to reform the criminal justice system.
War On Drugs: What You NEED To Know About Mandatory Prison Sentences (video): Alex Kreit explains why mandatory minimums are unfair and why we need reform.

Robby Soave: I think it’s reasonable obviously to say no you shouldn’t be profiting off of someone being in prison. However, it’s not at all, I think it’s very wrong to think that that incentive is what has caused our current problem. Instead it’s a result of the current problem. The government only started contracting with private prisons in the last two decades as a response to the fact they had so many people in prison and nowhere to put them, because of the mass incarceration they were already doing. It’s not like we started using private prisons and then we started jailing tons more people. It’s the exact opposite of that.
In one sense if we’re just going to stop using private prisons then we’re just going to have fewer prisons for the same inmate population. It’s actually going to make the lives of the inmates worse off if they’re just going to be shuffled into the existing prison system. It’s going to be more congested. It doesn’t seem to be better necessarily for the inmates to do this.
Evan (Host): A really important point is that this affects federal prisoners. That is a limited segment of the prison population. This would not impact the use of private prisons at the state and local level. Just how much of an improvement is this really?
Robby Soave: This is only affecting about 10% of everyone incarcerated in America. The vast majority of inmates are in public prisons. Already we’re concentrating on a smaller slice of the pie. I just kind of think it’s for people who want criminal justice reform, for people who want to lock away fewer people for less time. It’s just seems like a not very helpful thing to focus on because it’s not including very many people. Now, it would be great to change the laws I think that cause those people to be in private prisons. Actually private prisons at the federal level are often for people convicted of immigration problems.
Now, I want to change immigration laws. I want to allow immigrants into this country. I don’t want to be sending them to jail if their only crime is being here illegally. Whether we put them in private prisons or public prisons doesn’t, that’s sort of beside the point.