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Let me be clear, I don’t like private prisons. The need for profit to satisfy shareholders allows for cost cutting that can deprive a system (and its inmates) much-needed resources and possibly rehabilitative opportunities.

This is a general opposition but I currently see nothing to suggest the mandate of private prisons is anything more than that to securely hold its wards.

Andrew Leigh, an Australian economist is suggesting a third way which conjoins market incentives with successful reentry practices. He wants to see prisons with the lowest recidivism rates among its released inmates to reap financial award.

“Unfortunately, the contracts for private jails bear a close similarity to sheep agistment contracts,” alleges Leigh.

“Providers are penalised if inmates harm themselves or others and rewarded if they do the paperwork correctly. Yet the contracts say nothing about life after release. A private prison operator receives the same remuneration regardless of whether released inmates lead healthy and productive lives, or become serial killers.

“A smarter way to run private jails would be to contract for the outcomes that matter most. For example, why not pay bonuses for every prisoner who retains a job after release and does not re-offend? Given the right incentives, private prisons might be able to actually teach the public sector a few lessons on how to run an effective rehabilitation program.”

This comes from an article “Shock, An Economist Has a Good Idea!” While I’d temper such enthusiasm, I would like to see the idea investigated a little more. It could lead to private prisons committed to aggressive Research and Development in practices that lower recidivism.

My only worry would be that they’d compete for a finite amount of money and merely create a static ecosystem of excelling, well-funded prisons vs. forsaken, poor-funded prisons.


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