Free enterprise and competition make some government functions more efficient and less expensive. However, there is a subtle downside to this and private prisons are the most pernicious example.
The problem is that once a private company controls government functions, their incentive is to increase profits. For private prisons, an easy way to increase profits is to increase the number of prisoners that they hold with longer sentences and less judicial discretion.
They will lobby for legislation that helps them out. They support an attitude that jail sentences should increase, regardless of the wisdom of judges and juries. High minimum sentence guidelines and the demonization of certain crimes are in their best interest. They need to influence the public debate.
With those incentives, the hidden victims are the families and communities. The criminals are easy to attack. “Let’s get tough on crime” can be a mantra that the prison industry chants. However, they need to be creative to keep their stockholder’s bottom line in focus. Lobbying at the state and federal level are an inexpensive tool for that.
Without changes, the insane level of imprisonment in our country is only going to worsen. There’s much less incentive for education and rehabilitation of the prisoners. That would harm the private prison’s bottom line. A revolving door on their prisons is what they really want.
Putting the jails and prisons in the hands of private enterprise might save money in the short term, but it revokes the ability of the public to influence the criminal justice system.
Individuals don’t have the ability to compete with a wealthy prison lobby. They may not even be aware that the lobbyists hidden agenda is in play.
It is easy for politicians to support tougher crime policies and more and more difficult for them to influence these circumstances that they are ultimately responsible for.