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Private vs. Public Prisons

Private vs. Public Prisons
How does each system operate? Does one system utilize taxpayer money better than the other?

The U.S. incarceration rate is growing, and with this growth comes more expenses. In fact, the U.S. houses 25 percent of the global inmate population. The U.S. government spends around $80 billion on incarceration every year. Broken down, that means each tax-paying U.S. resident is paying $260 a year for the prison system. However, there are different types of prisons. — private and state-operated. Each operates differently financially and have individual ways of running their institutions.

Public Prisons


Public prisons, or state-operated institutions, are entirely owned and run by the government and are mainly funded through tax dollars. Federal prisons outsource a lot of their spending to other companies. For example, private companies are often hired to run food services and maintenance. This is one way of cutting costs. Public prisons are the traditional system. They are currently facing issues of overcrowding and understaffing. This makes private prisons seem like a valuable option to combat those issues.

Private Prisons


Privately owned prisons are run by a business or company. They are bought by private firms from the government (either local, federal or state), and become accountable for maintaining them. The government is responsible for providing prisoners, and the prison works like a business and makes a profit. The prisons are owned by the firm who are responsible for everyday maintenance and staffing. In turn, the government pays the prison for the inmates’ daily costs.

The debate


A debate between what is the better prison model is ongoing. Private and public prisons are both being scrutinized to determine which system operates better. There have been studies showing that private prisons have more escapes, higher staff-turnover, fewer work assignments and more violence. But there are reports that public prisons have the same issues as well. Private prisons are sometimes considered immoral since they make money for the corporation that owns the prisons and thus incentivize imprisonment through monetization. Federal prisons are overcrowded and need better maintenance. Comparing the two to find a winner is difficult due to the fact that each operates entirely differently and with its own set of rules. Basically, our criminal justice system needs major reform.


The U.S. has the largest amount of people locked up in the world. That is going to get expensive. Each U.S. taxpayer is paying about $250 dollars annually to keep this system running. All of that money goes into prisoner welfare, maintenance, and staffing. It is an expensive industry and one that society needs to function. Both forms of prisons run differently, and both have flaws. We need to reform our criminal justice system in order to better utilize taxpayer dollars.

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