The discussions around Josh Page's book The Toughest Beat, which we reviewed here, have made me think quite a bit about prison privatization. While the private prison industry thrives in other states, and actively lobbies for punitive policies - including the abominable SB 1070 in Arizona - could they possibly do a worse job than the state of California in incarceration?
A recent story on NPR was a reminder that, while state prisons are in such poor shape, allowing private institutions would be a very poor choice. The article is astonishing in that it documents the lengths to which private corporations will go to try and find inmates for prisons built on speculation. But does it at least pay off for the communities that agree to build their economies around the prison industry?
Shapiro says it's possible a town could reap some small economic benefits from a private prison, but it may not bring the larger economic boost the county is hoping for.
"That's what the empirical evidence has shown ... and there are various theories for why that may be the case," Shapiro tells weekends on All Things Considered guest host Laura Sullivan.
The presence of a prison might actually squeeze out other businesses that could bring greater benefits than the prison itself, he says. Also, many of the jobs created by a private prison don't actually go to people in the community.
The bigger problem, he says, is that state and federal taxpayers — who in the end are paying for these prisons — aren't getting the most value for their money.
To cite just one example, he says, last year the Arizona auditor general found that it actually might be more expensive to hold Arizona prisoners in private, for-profit facilities than in public ones.