Prisons, Detention and Public Safety

• Disaster relief
• Emergency services
• Firefighting
• Policing and security
• Prisons
• Immigration detention centers
• Prison and detention center food and medical services

Public safety is among the most basic of core government functions. In our times of greatest vulnerability, we rely on 911 call centers, paramedics, firefighters, and other public safety officers. Repeatedly, the quality and reliability of these vital services have significantly declined when cities have entrusted them to private contractors.

Quality differences such as slower response times of ambulances and paramedics can mean life or death, especially in rural areas. In one recent example, a woman died in Tate County, Tennessee, after the private contract ambulance took longer to arrive at the scene than the public county firefighters.

Beyond privatizing paramedics and ambulances, some cities have hired private firms to provide security services and even write traffic citations. Ensuring that the public’s safety and security is at the heart of these services is difficult when companies are trying to turn a profit.

The privatization of jails and prisons has steadily increased since the 1980’s, as both the construction and operation of prisons has become a big business. Incarceration for profit has caused many problems, as private companies fail to make decisions in the best interest of the inmates or the communities in which the prisons are located. Private prison companies have employed unqualified guards, resorted to excessive violence and cruelty to control inmates, and provided substandard medical care, resulting in unnecessary deaths. Prison privatization has led to numerous lawsuits and litigation, fines, and increased need for federal oversight, at great cost to taxpayers, communities, inmates and their families.

In August 2010, an Arizona state report blamed the poor security, faulty alarms, and general complacency at a for-profit prison in Kingman for the escape of three convicted killers. Two of the escapees are accused of murdering an Oklahoma couple during the escape.

For information about issues related to private prisons in Texas, visit Grassroot Leaderships' blog: Texas Prison Bid'ness

Several informative reports related to prison privatization have released been recently:

Prison Privatization Backgrounder Brief
In The Public Interest, 2011

Gaming the System: How the Political Strategies of Private Prison Companies Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies
Justice Policy Institute, 2011

Cells for Sale: Understanding Prison Costs and Savings
Ohio Policy Matters, 2011

Prisons for Profit: A Look at Private Prisons
ACLU of Ohio Foundation, 2011

Making a Killing: How Prison Corporations Are Profiting From Campaign Contributions and Putting Taxpayers at Risk
AFSCME, 2011

For additional reports, please see the research section on the side bar or visit our research library.

The Cost of Private Prisons

Publication Date: 
4/9/2014
Document file: 

Reality Has Turned the Tide Against Private Prisons

In July of 2010, three inmates from the privately owned, for-profit Kingman Arizona State Prison received bolt cutters and lineman's pliers over a fence from an outside accomplice. The three prisoners, with four murders or attempted murders between them, cut the chain-link fence and made their getaway leading to a nationwide manhunt that lasted for weeks.Read more »

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“Lockup quotas” guarantee profits for the U.S. private prison industry

Outsourcing public services is not a new concept for the U.S. and state government, but the recent trend towards the privatization of prison services, and the contracts that this entails has caused great concern among some commentators. Shar Habibi looks at the rise of “lockup quotas” in private prisons; quotas where states guarantee that prisons will be filled at rates of 90 percent or even higher.Read more »

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Inmate Murdered in Tennessee CCA Prison

On the heels of a federal court unsealing records that showed under-staffing leading to shocking levels of violence at a for-profit prison in Idaho run by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), an inmate was murdered over the weekend at a prison operated by CCA in Clifton, Tenn.Read more »

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Court Records Show CCA Under-staffing Led to Shocking Levels of Violence

Earlier this month, a federal judge unsealed a torrent of court documents that revealed the nation’s largest prison privatizer, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) had understaffed the Idaho Correction Center (ICC) at unsafe levels, having falsified nearly 5,000 staff hours. The under-staffing led to violence levels at ICC that were four times higher than at the states seven publicly owned and operated prisons combined.Read more »

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Crisis in Conneaut: A Timeline

Publication Date: 
4/9/2013
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