Do Private Prisons Really Save Us Money?

Categories: BOP , The Insider

Outsourcing touches every part of the American economy. We see it in our massive corporations, trying to cut corners and pay their workers less. We see it in our Department of Defense, trying to save the taxpayer money (while actually costing it more). And increasingly, we're seeing outsourcing in our Bureau of Prisons. 

Supporters of private prisons point to lower cost in facility building and inmate housing, pointing to the rampant overcrowding in the federal Bureau of Prisons as a reason for building more private institutions. 

But the numbers just don't add up. 

“This is yet another example of trying to save money at the expense of community safety,” said Council of Prison Locals President Eric Young. “It’s unacceptable to take an inmate into the community without being supervised by trained federal correctional officers. And on top of jeopardizing safety, both the Bureau of Prisons and Government Accountability Office agree that private prisons don't save taxpayers money in comparison to federal and state facilities." 

Young pointed to the 2007 Government Accountability Office report comparing the costs of private and federal prisons, which concluded that "without comparable data, [the Bureau Of Prisons] is not able to evaluate and justify whether confining inmates in private facilities is more cost-effective than other confinement alternatives such as building new BOP facilities." The BOP released a similar report in 2005. 

The Washington Post found similar results in state-run prisons, using Arizona as an example. In the article, the Post revealed that many private prison companies try to save money on inmate health care, selecting younger and healthier inmates to house – leaving many of the sick, old and mentally ill inmates to remain in public incarceration. Even with this selective incarceration, the savings are negligible.  

"Time and again, we've proven that federal prisons are the most cost-effective institutions to help rehabilitate our nation's inmates," Young said. "These companies prey on repeat offenders to fill their prisons and line their pockets, and fail to save taxpayers the money they promise to."


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