Friday, May 14, 2010

Crime Pays? For Whom?

This morning's Bloomberg Businessweek has a fascinating piece on California inmates housed in out-of-state private facilities run by Corrections Corp. It's hard to pick a paragraph to quote; the whole piece is a gem. It appears that CCA, at least superficially, does a better job than CDCR at housing inmates in decent conditions. Also, note how privatization is presented as an economic boon for towns in Arizona, who become "Prison Town, USA" because of the prospect of jobs and prosperity.

My concerns, however, lie with the incentives:

In investor presentations, Corrections Corp. touts as benefits to the company demographic trends that in other contexts would be considered societal ills.

“At current incarceration rates, jail and prison populations would grow by about 121,000 between 2010 and 2015, or more than 24,000 per year on average,” Corrections Corp. said in a February presentation. Both “high recidivism” among felons and “inmate population growth following prior recessions” are highlighted as positives for the company in the 48-page report.

And then there's this, which raises concerns about inappropriate lobbying:

U.S. states are forecasting budget deficits of $136.1 billion through 2012, according to figures released in February by the National Association of State Budget Officers and the National Governors Association.

“It cuts both ways,” said Jane Cotroneo, a Moody’s analyst who follows prison operators and real estate investment trusts. Decisions by some states to eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing and release some prisoners early may hurt Corrections Corp., she said. “Even if they didn’t continue to grow, or leveled off for a while, they would do fine where they are.”

Do the benefits--decent conditions, classes, vocational training, inmate satisfaction--outweigh the concerns?

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