Today’s post comes from Christopher Petrella. Petrella is a prisoners’ rights activist, a doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley in African American Studies, and a political journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @CFPetrella.
Defenders of the for-profit prison industry reflexively insist that privatization—or the process of subjecting “correctional services” to market pressures—will naturally generate efficiencies as companies respond to competitive forces. They claim that the “market incentives” will generate the types of efficiencies that lay beyond the scope and capacity of public corrections agencies. Despite flimsy empirical support, this argument serves as the bedrock for claims of the so-called “cost-effectiveness” of private prisons.
Efficiency-based criteria for evaluating the performance of private prisons are valid if and only if qualitatively different and unequal outcomes can be generated from equal inputs. That is, the legitimacy of efficiency-based arguments hinges on producing demonstrably better results with similar ingredients. The private prison industry, however, is in no position to make such bold claims. The industry is ethically and empirically bankrupt.