Monday, November 17, 2014

PF Dec 2014 - For-Profit Prisons - Pro Position

Resolved: For-profit prisons in the United States should be banned.

For part one of this series, click here.

Pro Position

Private (for-profit) prisons for adult offenders have been operating in the United States for at least three decades and juvenile offenders even longer and now the Pro position is calling for them to be banned.  They should not be scaled back or reformed or more tightly regulated.  They should be banned. To justify such a position there must be a compelling problem that scaling back, reformation or regulation will not solve.  For this article, I will include many of the expected positions dealing with economics and quality and I will look at the civil and moral implications of for-profit prisons, but the underlying theme will be, the existence of the profit motive as perhaps the biggest flaw of all.

No Cost Benefit

The Con cannot legitimately claim a cost benefit to allowing governments to shift prison operations to private entities.

Central to the argument in favor of privatization is the perceived inefficiency of labor costs in the operation of prisons. In using mostly nonunion labor and by controlling wages and fringe benefits, private prison companies maintain that they can efficiently reduce the costs of labor and thereby net substantial savings for the government. The promise of meaningful savings, however, is specious at best. Research to date has concluded that there is little evidence that privatization of prisons results in significant public savings. In a 1996 General Accounting Office (GAO) review of several comparative studies on private versus public prisons, researchers acknowledged, “because the studies reported little difference and/or mixed results in comparing private and public facilities, we could not conclude whether privatization saved money.”7 A study by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) released in 2001 had similar conclusions, stating that “rather than the projected 20-percent savings, the average saving from privatization was only 1 percent” and “the promises of 20-percent savings in operational costs have simply not materialized.” These modest savings, furthermore, “will not revolutionize modern correctional practices.” [pages 1-2]

Cody Mason of the Sentencing Project cites a 2009 meta-analysis at the University of Utah looking at eight studies which concluded there was no clear fiscal advantage or disadvantage when compared to publicly managed prisons [Mason 2012:7]

Mason 2012:
Results vary somewhat, but when inconsistencies and research errors are adjusted the savings associated with investing in private prisons appear dubious. Even minimal savings are far from guaranteed, and many studies claiming otherwise have been criticized for their methodology. The available data belies the oft-claimed economic benefits of private contracting, and points to the practice being an unreliable approach toward financial stability.[page 17]

No Quality of Service Benefit

Con should not be able to cite any significant increase in the quality of care or services provided by private (for-profit) prison operations.  In the past, private prisons routinely degraded the quality of their services in the interest of higher profits [Austin & Coventry 2001:17]. To justify continued shift toward privatization in light of past abuses may require a genuine act of faith in the benevolence of corporations.

Austin & Coventry 2001:
The current movement to reprivatize primary facility management assumes that modern entrepreneurs are somehow more benevolent and humanistic so that the exploitations of the past will not reoccur (Walker, 1994). Critics, however, contend that privately managed facilities will bring new opportunities for corruption. Given poorly paid, undereducated, and inadequately trained staff, opponents question the professionalism and commitment that privatized staff will bring to the job.

[Alexander] Sasha Volokh wrote a revealing piece published in the Washington Post which examined the research which attempts to answer the question, "Are private prisons better or worse than public prisons?" [Volokh 2014]. Volokh compares several important aspects for determining which is measurably better.  Frustrated with the lack of good cost comparisons he looks at the question of quality of service.

Volokh 2013:
Moving on to quality comparisons, the picture is similarly grim. As with cost comparisons, sometimes no comparable facility exists in the same jurisdiction. Some studies solve that problem by looking at prisons in different jurisdictions, an approach that has its own problems. (If one had a large database with several prisons in each jurisdiction, one could control for the jurisdiction, but this approach is of course unavailable when comparing two prisons, each in its own jurisdiction.) Many studies just don’t control for clearly relevant variables in determining whether a facility is truly comparable. Often, the comparability problem boils down to differences in inmate populations; one prison may have a more difficult population than the other, even if they have the same security level. Usually prisons have different populations because of the luck of the draw, but sometimes it’s by design, as happened in Arizona, when the Department of Corrections chose “to refrain from assigning prisoners to [a particular private prison] if they [had] serious or chronic medical problems, serious psychiatric problems, or [were] deemed to be unlikely to benefit from the substance abuse program that is provided at the facility.” It’s actually quite common to not send certain inmates to private prisons; the most common restriction in contracts is on inmates with special medical needs.

The Profit Motive

One of the most important arguments which justify the Pro position is found in the profit motive.  Corporations are in business to make money and increase returns for their share-holders.  Granted, one may claim it is in the best interests of the corporation to provide quality services at a fair price, but in fact such balance for the long term is not normal.  The directors are driven to continually ratchet-up the returns.  In the prison industry, corporations can leverage the popular idiom, 'keep the criminal off the streets' to maximize profits.

Cheung 2004:
As an industry, private prison companies are beholden to the bottom line and maximization of profits. In a March 1997 Securities and Exchange Commission filing, CCA acknowledged that “the rate of construction of new facilities and the Company's potential for growth will depend on a number of factors, including crime rates and sentencing patterns in the United States.” Thus, higher profits require more inmates. And because most private prisons operate on a per diem rate for each bed filled, there is a financial incentive not only to detain more inmates but also to detain them for a longer period of time. The profit motive of private prison companies inherently creates a problematic entanglement between interest in profit and public policy. Corporate Contributions and Sentencing Policy-- Private prison companies deny that they are motivated to take proactive steps in pursuing legislation to keep their private facilities filled. Yet, both CCA and Wackenhut are major contributors to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a Washington, D.C. based public policy organization that supports conservative legislators. ALEC’s members include over 40% of all state legislators—representing a serious force in state politics. One of ALEC’s primary functions is the development of model legislation that advances conservative principles, such as privatization. Under their Criminal Justice Task Force, ALEC has developed and helped to successfully implement in many states “tough on crime” initiatives including “Truth in Sentencing” and “Three Strikes” laws.[page 4]

Ari Melber, writing for MSNBC describes how cost-cutting by private prisons resulted in law suits filed in Mississippi when mentally ill inmates were denied food and medical care and in Florida, prisoner health care was cut up to 50% raising concerns of mistreatment [Melber 2014].

Melber 2014:
Many criminal justice experts say that a business built on incarceration can’t help but support incarceration. A 2011 report by the Justice Policy Institute, “Gaming The System,” documents how private prison companies, including CCA, have sought to advance “pro-incarceration” policies at the state and federal level. “Private prison companies have had either influence over, or helped to draft, model legislation such as three-strikes‛ and truth-in-sentencing‛ laws,” the report explains, “which have driven up incarceration rates.” 

It is also widely reported thanks to increasing incarceration of undocumented persons living in the U.S., private corporations are seeing large profit increases as more and more of these individuals are transferred to private facilities.

Shen 2012:
As the AP explains, these remarkable profits come in the wake of an equally remarkable lobbying campaign. In the past decade, three major private prison companies spent $45 million on campaign donations and lobbyists to push legislation at the state and federal level. At times, this money has gone to truly nefarious legislation. A 2011 report found that the private prison industry spent millions seeking to increase sentences and incarcerate more people in order to increase the industry’s profits. 30 of the 36 legislators who co-sponsored Arizona’s now mostly invalidated immigration law — which would have landed many more people in detention — received campaign contributions from private prison lobbyists or companies, including CCA and GEO. According to a report released last year, CCA spent over $900,000 on federal lobbying and GEO spent between $120,000 to $199,992 in Florida alone during a short three-month span in 2011. $450,000 went to the Republican national and congressional committees, while Democrats received less than half that number. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) were also among the private prison lobby’s top benefactors.

For those who wish to extend the impacts of this contention, I suggest going back and reread the January 2013 PF topic on the Citizens United decision.  The amount of political influence corporate America can "buy" is virtually unlimited if politicians are willing to open their hands.

Civil Responsibility

Corporations as well as people and governments have a responsibility to be good citizens under the social contract.  This generally means no one has the right to infringe the basic civil and human rights of others in society.  Many feel that prisoners give up their rights when they enter the penitentiary but that simply isn't true.  Many basic rights are retained founded in fundamental human rights.  For example, they retain the right to be safe, to not be denied health-care, to continue to receive basic human needs including sufficient sustenance. After all, the constitution does grant everyone should be free from cruel or unusual punishment. When these things are denied, social organizations along with prisoners will sue.  Some authors note an increasing number of lawsuits being filed charging private prison facilities with various civil offenses which many believe result from poorly constructed contracts between the government and the corporation and cost-cutting measures in the interest of increasing profits.

I am not going to include specific articles for this contention.  You will have no trouble finding many specific examples which speak to the horrors experienced by some prisoners and the lawsuits brought before the courts.  One import thing to consider, however is what happens if the corporation decides to shutdown a facility or files bankruptcy?  Think about it.

The Normative View

Until now we have tended to look to the practical measurables of cost, quality, and so forth.  We may also include in that evaluation, recidivism or numbers of violent incidents.  In most cases and as exposed by scholastic researchers, there are very few "good" studies from which one may draw an overwhelming conclusion.  The Pro may leverage these facts to conclude there is no reason to believe that for-profit prisons are capable of solving harms more effectively than government facilities.  Since the resolution states "should be banned" we are open to explore the normative question as to why for-profit prisons "should" be banned.  What important values are being harmed or is there a moral imperative to ban these corporations.

At the root of the value debate is the some-what repugnant notion it is okay for individuals to profit from the misery of others. On face it is a clear violation of Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative and the prohibition against using individuals as a mere means to an end. Most moral theorists recognize the necessity to punish criminals. This issue is, how the punishment is carried out and by whom is it carried out?  This is a tricky contention because addressing philosophical issues in Public Forum debate is not common so I caution against diving deeply into the discussion and losing the judge.

For example, consider the theory of justice espoused by John Rawls who suggested a thought experiment to determine if choices are just or moral.  If one was placed behind a veil of ignorance and did not know when the veil lifted would she be a free citizen or stand guilty of some crime, what choices would be made as to how the punishment should be carried out. Behind Rawls' veil where no one knows their status until the veil is lifted, people will tend to make choices which favor the least advantaged.

Dolovich 2005:
Behind the veil, the parties know nothing of their own social position or personal particulars, but they do know that they will have some conception of the good that they will want to realize. They also know that they are choosing principles of punishment for a partially compliant society, that is, a society with some measure of crime, where innocent people are sometimes wrongfully convicted and punished, and in which social goods are unjustly distributed. The parties will thus anticipate a threat to their security and integrity from both crime and punishment, and they will seek principles that best protect these goods...The parties will thus select those principles of punishment that provide the greatest possible protection for the security and integrity of the worst off. This means the parties would not agree to principles that could compromise the security and integrity of the worst off in order that other better-off members of society might satisfy their less urgent interest in accruing financial advantage—an interest that is less urgent because it is unconnected to the protection of anyone’s security and integrity.[page 465-466]

The impact for a government which allows its criminal justice system to operate in a way repugnant or immoral to its citizens is a loss of public trust and ultimately loss of legitimacy. Under the social contract, citizens have delegated the responsibility for criminal justice to the state to act as a neutral, unbiased administrator of justice.  Is it just or moral to hand that responsibility over to private concerns whose first motivation is profit? That is the basis of the normative debate.


Austin, J., Coventry, G. (2001). Emerging issues on privatized prisons. Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Justice Programs; accessed 11/1/2014:

Cheung, Amy. 2004. Prison Privatization and the Use of Incarceration. The Sentencing Project, accessed 11/3/2014:

Dolovich, S. (2005) STATE PUNISHMENT AND PRIVATE PRISONS, Duke Law Journal, Vol. 55, No. 3, December 2005. Accessed 11/5/2014:

Mason, C, (2012); Too Good to be True Private Prisons in America, The Sentencing Project, January 2012; accessed 11/4/2014:

Melber, A (2014), Presumed guilty: How prisons profit off the ‘war on drugs’, MSNBC, 08/14/13 —Updated 07/29/14. Accessed 11/10/2014:

Shen, A. (2012), Private Prisons Spend $45 Million On Lobbying, Rake In $5.1 Billion For Immigrant Detention Alone, ThinkProgress, Aug 3, 2012, accessed 11/12/2014:

Volokh AS, Are private prisons better or worse than public prisons?, The Washington Post, February 2014. Accesssed 11/14/2014:

Note: the original Volokh report was published in 2013 under the following citation:
Volokh, A (2013), Prison accountability and performance measures, Emory Law Journal, Vol 63:339.  Accessed 11/10/2014:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

PF Dec 2014 - For-Profit Prisons - Con Position

Resolved: For-profit prisons in the United States should be banned.

For part one of this series, click here.

Con Position

Many of the problems associated with private (for-profit) prisons are non-unique.  Housing individuals who have forfeited their right to move about freely in society is a tough and risky business, so Pro cannot claim many of the issues are strictly due to privatization.

Blumstein et al (2007):
Thus, by way of understatement, privatization of the delivery of governmental services has its critics and skeptics. Yet public management of public programs, such as prisons, hardly reflects a state of nirvana. There have been “widespread problems and deficiencies in many public prisons,” and a survey by the Harvard Law Review concluded that evidence “give[s] reason to be cautiously pleased with private prison performance.” Part of any analysis of the overall role of privatization must include an examination of the practical benefits that accrue from using private entities to provide public services. [page 3]

With that, we begin this analysis of the Con position.

Simplistic Laissez-Faire

A very simple view of the free market economy claims that by reducing barriers to entry into a market and lifting government restrictions, a kind of economic balance will be achieved, through competition, between supply and demand.  The result of this laissez-faire (open market) economy is market efficiency.  There is a view (for sure, a highly disputed view) that if left alone, the market will self-correct for its own deficiencies.  The catalyst for change is competition.  If prices are too high, competition tends to reduce prices. If services are inadequate, competition tends to favor those who provide better services. Thus, ideally, the market evolves and achieves equilibrium in prices, services, etc. I suppose the beauty of this theory of economics is that while cost-reduction in an effort to reduce prices may be the order of the day, the demand for better services will limit the reduction of quality services as a means of cost-cutting. Another important point, is over-sight and management come at a cost and few things on this earth levy a more costly over-sight than the government.

Blumstein et al (2007):
Cost-savings from privatization are generally attributed to (i) productive efficiencies inherent in private ownership and (ii) competition. These cost-savings arise from the relatively lower direct costs from private (as contrasted with public) management. The traditional focus of analysis has been on the cost-saving contribution that accrues directly from the differing incentives15 and institutional constraints16 that face private and governmental management. As a result, the emphasis in analysis and policy discussion has been on the direct contribution to programmatic cost-saving from private management as a competitor of and substitute for governmental management.[page 4]

Obviously, market efficiencies will be disputed by the Pro, who will claim there is no cost savings and the quality of services is less in privately run institutions.  However, all cost comparisons are extremely difficult due to the problems inherent in fully differentiating the source of costs.  For example, in some jurisdictions, the government incurs higher regulatory costs that other jurisdictions.  In addition, truly independent studies are difficult to find.  While Blumstein and his colleagues were commissioned by the Corrections Corporation of America, a supplier of private prison services, the Blumstein reports were published in peer-reviewed journals and are widely cited.  The Blumstein team's methodology has been clearly described and reviewed.  Even if the judge seems reluctant to accept the Blumstein reports, other truly independent studies have been conducted.

Kirchoff 2010:
In 1996, lawmakers instructed the Bureau of Prisons to conduct a five-year demonstration project comparing the cost of public prisons versus a private prison in Taft, CA. The Bureau of Prisons did its own follow-up evaluation and also paid for an independent analysis by consulting firm Abt Associates, Inc. The two reports produced findings that were significant enough that DOJ officials in 2008 held a special meeting to discuss approaches in methodology regarding the issue.115 For example, the Abt report said the private Taft facility was cheaper to run than three comparable public facilities, noting that in 2002 the average cost of the public facilities was  14.8% above that of the private prison. The Bureau of Prisons found, however, that the average cost of the public facilities in 2002 was only 2.2% more than the private prison.[page 23]

In her report to the Congressional Research Service, Kirchoff cites a Department of Justice report which concluded a 1% cost savings along with lower quality of service [page 23-24]. Kirchoff also cites the 2007 New Mexico study which showed the state paid more than necessary for private prisons due to unnecessary adjustments for inflation [page 24].  This illustrates the difficulties inherent in price comparison.  Just looking at dollars does not always tell the true story.  Kirchoff continues:

Kirchoff 2010:
Kevin Campbell of independent investment firm Avondale Partners says costs and potential cost savings vary widely from state to state.121 Based on his analysis, some state governments have tight oversight and may post significant savings by contracting out with private firms that pay lower salaries and do not offer pension benefits equivalent to those for public workers. He also says states can realize significant savings by shipping prisoners to existing, private institutions in other states, rather than building new prisons of their own.[page 24]

More specific to laissez-faire economics, does it work?  Consider this report.

Miller (2010):
Following along the lines of the capitalist model of competition previously suggested as a benefit of private prisons, Segal and Moore (2002) show that the introduction of privatization urges managers (both from public and private facilities) to implement cost-effective strategies while maintaining quality of services to remain competitive. They examine 28 studies and report that 22 show a significant savings without impacting quality when compared to public prisons. These 28 studies extensively compared across multiple variables; furthermore, "many of them went to great lengths to compensate for the differences between compared facilities and to develop useful comparison figures" (Segal & Moore). The authors conclude, "it is remarkable that such a wide variety of approaches spanning over a decade and a half of research conducted in states across the nation repeatedly come to the same conclusion: that privatization saves money without reducing quality . . . . Thus the extreme one-sidedness of this literature—near-universal findings of cost savings from privatization—is on its own very persuasive" (Segal and Moore, 2002b). Some quality issues noted include better living environments and improved prisoner-guard relations.

Reason for Banning?

Perhaps Pro can make a very rational argument for-profit prisons should be banned if they are costing society more money than spent on public prisons.  But is that really a reason to ban them?  Pro would need to establish some kind of standard for determining when the costs become excessive.  For example, are the costs resulting in higher than usual taxes? Is there great public outcry about the costs?  I spent a lot of time and space in the previous section to show at worse the cost of privatization is, perhaps, no greater than the cost of managing a public prison system and much of the evaluation of the costs are difficult to compare across jurisdictions. The economics argument is more exacerbated by the public acceptance of the incarceration of non-violent offenders (such as drug users) and longer prison terms which drives up the prison populations at a much greater cost to society as a whole. Other reasons may be found if the Pro can prove there is something inherently flawed in utilization of private services which harms public safety or denies inmates their civil or natural rights more so than what is seen in public facilities.

Dangerous Conditions

Pro will cite unsafe conditions, both for the public, the employees of the prison and the inmates which arise for various reasons; most notably, under-staffed or under-trained employees and improperly designed facilities.  However, while there are several examples of tragedies related to private prisons, it is easy to lose sight of the fact one of the key motivations for turning to private facilities results from extreme overcrowding in substandard, public facilities. These conditions result in danger to staff and inmates, especially when non-violent offenders are not adequately separated from violent inmates.

Consider as well, the situation in California where prisoners "sued the governor and corrections officials for violating their rights under the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause because they were being deprived of adequate health care" [Spector 2010:194].

Spector 2010:
Nearly five years after the Plata court placed California’s prisons in partial receivership and after the Coleman court issued more than seventy additional orders to improve mental health care, California’s prisoners remain at serious risk of injury or death because medical and mental health care remain abysmal. There is one primary reason why neither the state nor the receiver has been able to improve prison health care—overcrowding...Severe overcrowding makes the safe operation of a prison system nearly impossible. “Everything revolves around overcrowding. The deficiencies in the classification plan, the deficiencies in the unavailability of staff because they are doing other tasks associated with overcrowding problems to do onsite medical appointments or offsite medical appointments, the wear and tear on the infrastructure.” [page 194]

Spector goes on the describe a state of California proclamation that California was experiencing an over-crowding state of emergency which "“has caused substantial risk to the health and safety of the men and women who work inside these prisons and the inmates housed in them,” making prisons places of “extreme peril to the safety of persons.” {Spector 2010:194]

To ease overcrowding, and when private facilities are not available to take up the slack, government officials are forced to take other steps to alleviate the situation.

Daily Mail 2013:
The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday paved the way for the early release of nearly 10,000 California inmates by year's end despite warnings by Governor Jerry Brown and other state officials that a public safety crisis looms if they're forced to open the prison gates. A majority of justices refused an emergency request by the governor to halt a lower court's directive for the early release of the prisoners to ease severe overcrowding at California's 33 adult prisons.

The obvious solution for many states has been and continues to be to turn to the competitive market place for solutions.  Private contractors are willing to build the facilities, train the staff and house the inmates for the opportunity to make a profit.

Montague 2001:
Without new prisons, law enforcement officials will be forced to make difficult decisions about which dangerous criminals should be incarcerated and which should be allowed back onto the street. Unfortunately, because of tight budgets and other pressing needs, building enough government run prisons to safely hold the increasing inmate population is not financially feasible. A new study from the Washington Policy Center offers a sensible solution to this problem. "Private Prisons: A Sensible Solution" suggests allowing private contractors to compete for prison construction and management contracts. Allowing private companies to compete does not mean giving over control of prisoners to big corporations. Sentencing and oversight would be managed by the state, but taxpayers would benefit from the competitive pressures introduced by private competition.

Lessor of Evils

Generally, the public has little interest in how prisoners are treated.  I mean, everyone has a certain expectation that prisoners within the U.S. will be treated humanely but few people expect prisons to be pleasant retreats.  Often, when a convicted criminal is led from the court room to his or her fate, the public turns its gaze away from the inmate.  It's only when the "distant" world of prison justice intrudes upon our lives with requests for higher taxes, or when a prison riot erupts, or when an escape occurs does the public react.  Without for-profit prisons, the government must still deal with ever-increasing prison populations one way or another and over-crowding presents risks to staff and public as well as violate the human rights of the prisoners.  We also see that one obvious solution, the release of prisoners, is not favorable to the government or the public.  Private prisons provide a solution to a very real problem which in and of itself may introduce other kinds of problems the case is made it is the lessor of two evils.


Daily Mail (2013), Nearly 10,000 California prisoners to be released early to ease severe overcrowding, accessed at Mail Online 11/11/2014:

Kirchoff, S (2010), Economic IMpacts of Prison Growth, Congrssional Research Service, 7-5700., R41177 , April 13, 2010, accessed 11/2/2014:

Miller, DW (2010), The Drain of Public Prison Systems and the Role of Privatization: An Analysis of State Correctional Systems, ProQuest Discovery Guides, Released February 2010, accessed 11/4/2014:

Montague, E. (2001), Private Prisons: A sensible solution, Washington Policy Center, August, 2001; accessed 11/12/2014:

Segal, GF; Moore, AT (2002) Weighing the Watchmen: Evaluating the Costs and Benefits of Outsourcing, Correctional Services, Part I: Employing a Best-value Approach to Procurement, Reason Public Policy Institute, Policy Study No. 289., Accessed 11/4/2014:

Spector, D (2010), Everything Revolves Around Overcrowding: The State of California’s Prisons, Federal Sentencing Reporter, Vol. 22, No.3, February 2010, accessed 11/10/2014:

Sunday, November 2, 2014

PF Dec 2014 - For-Profit Prisons - Introduction

Resolved: For-profit prisons in the United States should be banned.


The reason for this resolution is pretty straightforward.  The prison system in the United States is part of the U.S. Criminal Justice System, which is comprised of three major institutions: law enforcement, the courts system, and corrections, which most commonly consists of probation or incarceration. (src: FindLaw)

It is the incarceration (imprisonment) portion of the criminal justice system we are dealing with in this resolution.  For relevant background, no doubt you have heard of the social contract, the philosophical idea that people form governments to protect their rights and liberties from infringement by others.  Thus people relinquish some of their absolute freedoms to an authority which in-turn agrees to defend those freedoms which are not relinquished.  As a result the government ends up protecting its citizens from foreign invaders and other citizens who are inclined to deprive the rest of the citizens of their lives, properties, or rights; by breaking laws established to prevent such activities.  The law often requires violators to be imprisoned (presumably as a deterrent) for a prescribed length of time.  So...all of these responsibilities, enforcing the law, determining if there have been violations and acting to correct those violations are considered responsibilities of the government. It is a huge, expensive undertaking which requires budgets which are derived either from taxes or deficit spending and so, there is a major incentive to reduce costs, just like in the private sector. Therefore, when private companies offered to provide prison services at a lower price, and considering, that other countries successfully contract prison services to private firms, it seems like a no-brainer way to reduce costs and provide the same level of service.

I think it worth noting, that prison systems were pretty much always intended to operate in such a way that they covered their costs.  Paying for the food and housing costs of criminals at public expense has never been a popular idea.

Austin & Coventry 2001:
For most of the correctional history of the United States, prison labor was expected to generate a profit for the institution. If generating a profit was not feasible, it was incumbent upon the prisoner to pay the costs of incarceration and become self-supporting. The “managers” of early detention facilities charged their inmates for food and clothing, while providing substandard service. The income generated by inmate labor, however, was not sufficient to cover the high costs of operating correctional systems, despite persistent and intense efforts to make the system pay for itself (Feeler, 1991). Without independent oversight and monitoring, the convict labor system eventually succumbed to bribery and corruption.

In the 1970's more and more facilities were operated by private firms to "house" juvenile offenders and in the 1980's the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) issued contracts to private concerns to detain individuals who had entered the country illegally, followed by the first county-level corrections facility operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) in Hamilton Country Tennessee (Austin & Conventry, 2001:12)

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, at the end of 2013 an aggregate of 8% of the prison population was housed in private prisons.

"The total number of state and federal prisoners housed in private facilities decreased 3%, from 137,200 at yearend 2012 to 133,000 at yearend 2013. Private prisons held 7% of the total state prison population and 19% of the federal prison population on December 31, 2013."

It seems privatization of the prison systems has not grown into a huge industry and I think student researchers will find there has been a lot of opposition from unions and existing justice system employees who are opposed to privatization for obvious reasons.  Government jobs can be nice, with good pay and great benefits and no one wants their job outsourced.  Of course, this resolution is not about how big the industry has become, but rather about whether these kinds of for-profit systems should be allowed to operate in the first place.


Profit, For-Profit
Something that is designated "for-profit", according to Merriam-Webster, is established, maintained or conducted for the purpose of making a profit and "profit" is money made in a business after all expenses are paid. We could qualify the definition somewhat and state the intent of a for-profit entity is to earn a profit even though they may fail to do so.  Nevertheless, even if a concern is operating in the "red" (i.e. losing money) if it intends to make a surplus of money as soon as possible, it is considered a "for-profit" concern.

We pretty much all know and understand what a prison is and its purpose.  A prison is a place from which one cannot escape. In the context of criminal justice, it is place of confinement in which people are held pending trial or held after conviction as a form of punishment.

For-Profit Prison
Based upon the previous definitions, we can define a for-profit prison as a prison who purpose is to make a profit. Profits should not be considered evil.  It is through the use of profits that corporations can expand and offer more services or additional facilities which employ more people.

United States
No doubt we do not need to define the United States because the majority of people debating and judging this debate will understand the meaning.  However, for what it is worth, we can note that "United States" is not restricted to the fifty states. It includes all states and territories under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Criminal Justice System.  We need not split hairs over federal versus state-level justice systems.  All U.S. government (federal, state, local and military) justice systems are fair game.

to ban
The verb to ban basically means to prohibit something and we can infer from the context, the prohibition is a matter of law.  In other words, the U.S. should outlaw for-profit prisons.

should be banned
Recently, I had a brief discussion of this kind of wording of PF topics with another coach in our district who is concerned about the use of "normative statements" in Public Forum debate. The problem with normative statements is they require value judgements which can never be objectively proven right or wrong.  Normative statements are common in Lincoln-Douglas debate, not Public Forum. For example, if this resolution was worded "The disadvantages of for-profit prisons in the United States outweigh the benefits" it would likely engender the intended debate without the normative component.  Typically, this has not been a real problem in debates I have seen, which tend to hold to traditional PF intentions and the language of the resolution wording is rarely debated except when issues of scope or context are at stake. Nevertheless, I think for this topic a value framework could provide a reasonable weighing mechanism for judges.

The Pro position is here.
For the Con position click here


Austin, J; Coventry, G; 2001; Emerging Issues on Privatized Prisons, Bureau of Justice Assistance, February 2001 Monograph NCJ 181249