Private Prisons

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The concept of the prison has existed for more than two thousand years. It probably goes back as far in time as practice of cannibalism, where victims had to wait for their turn in contributing to the chief course in the menu of their captors. Examples of prisons can even be found in the Old Testament when Joseph was incarcerated in Egypt. It was not until the 19th century that a clear shift occurred from corporal punishment to imprisonment. As societies prospered and the industrial revolution began, the formal prison system, as we know it today, developed. Throughout most of the world, the correctional system is administered by the state, and it is considered a key function that the government must fulfill: protect its citizens by guaranteeing the state of law while enforcing the judicial system. More than two decades ago, the United Sates and Great Britain began experimenting with privatization of their prison systems, outsourcing the management to private enterprises. Like most privatization issues, this topic has many supporters from the liberal economic philosophy, as well as many detractors that argue against profit seeking enterprises. The discussion promotes themes such as the ethical dilemma of the private sector “administering punishment”, selecting the correct metrics used to evaluate the performance of private sector versus public sector, disputes of what are “just and fair” services that the inmates are entitled to, among others. In the following essay we aim to bring these topics into light and try to analyze the pros and cons of privatizing the prison system.

Private prisons are one of the fastest growing industries in the security and protection industry. Up until 2003, there were an estimated of 102 private prisons in the U.S. holding more than 100,000 inmates. As of 2008, there were 128,524 inmates held in private prisons, representing 8% of the total 1,610,466 inmates held in all state and federal prisons. Many researchers and academics...
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