Prison Privatization a Risky Business

Last year, Governor Deal convened a Criminal Justice Reform Council to recommend ways to make our prisons less costly and better performing. That council produced this report detailing some of the problems with the system:

“During the past two decades, the prison population in Georgia has more than doubled to nearly 56,000 inmates. As a result, Georgia has one of the highest proportions of adult residents under correctional control. This growth has come at a substantial cost to Georgia’s taxpayers.  Today the state spends more than $1 billion annually on corrections, up from $492 million in FY 1990.  Yet despite this growth in prison, Georgia taxpayers haven’t received a better public safety return on their corrections dollars: the recidivism rate has remained unchanged at nearly 30 percent throughout the past decade.  If current policies remain in place, analysis indicates that Georgia’s prison population will rise by another 8 percent to reach nearly 60,000 inmates by 2016,” presenting the state with the need to spend an additional $264 million to expand capacity.”

That spawned last year’s bill which should save Georgia nearly $300 million in costs by directing drug and property offenders to rehab instead of jail. So far, so good, right?

In the continuing effort to reach the goals above 1) reducing costs and 2) lowering recidivism, the Council will make recommendations about the management of the prison system. The Southern Center for Human Rights, who essentially has the job of looking out for those who society tends to neglect, wants you to know that road is not the smooth asphalt to Efficiencyville we are led to believe, it is more of a rutted, muddy track that leads into parts unknown.


SCHR Report Warns Criminal Justice Reform Council About Privatization Perils

Roadblocks to Reform presented to Governor Deal and Criminal Justice Reform Council

ATLANTA, GEORGIA – The Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) released a report today that makes recommendations to Governor Deal’s Criminal Justice Reform Council for necessary examination of the privatization of criminal justice functions in the state. This report, Roadblocks to Reform: Privatization Perils for Georgia’s Criminal Justice System has been submitted to members of the Council as well as Georgia criminal justice stakeholders, and is available online at

As Georgia streamlines its correctional expenditures to bring costs in line with best practices, it should resist buying into the myth of privatization and phase out profit-seeking companies’ involvement in the criminal justice system. SCHR’s report reveals that the profit-based business model is at odds with the goal of running effective and fair criminal justice and prison systems at the lowest reasonable cost.

“The profit motive is fundamentally at odds with Georgia’s criminal justice reform goals,” said Southern Center for Human Rights Executive Director, Sara Totonchi. “Contracting out government responsibilities of running correctional facilities and probation supervision to private companies with little accountability exacerbates Georgia’s challenges problems and stands at odds with the Special Council’s objective or reducing our prison population and corrections budget.”

Research into the performance of private entities in the criminal justice system shows that cost savings do not materialize, and purported efficiencies come at the expense of public safety. Some common problems with privatization include:

  • Private prison companies have a financial interest in sustained or increased incarceration rates. The proposed state budget for FY 2013 includes $35 million for 2, 650 new private prison beds despite Georgia Department of Corrections cost analyses that indicates private prisons cost more than state-run prisons;
  • There is very little accountability and oversight. There are 35 private probation companies in Georgia operating in over 600 courts that enjoy minimal oversight because of a state statue that excludes them from open records requests;
  • Nationwide, privately operated facilities have a significantly higher rate of violence and struggle with a variety of other disturbances; and
  • Mismanagement in private prisons has given rise to a number of lawsuits across the country, resulting in millions of dollars in settlements and damages. Just this month, an Augusta woman filed suit against private probation company,Sentinel Offender Services, for allegedly giving false information to a judge to secure a warrant for her arrest.


The report describes privatization in the national context, the role of private prisons and private probation in Georgia today, offers evidence based research and recommendations for policy changes, including:

  • Revise the policies that continue to drive Georgia’s prison population, including mandatory minimum sentences;
  • Refocus on the rehabilitative potential of incarceration through evidence-based programs that are proven to drive down recidivism;
  • Develop penalties that punish poor performance by prison companies in a way that spurs changes in their behavior and practices; and
  • Create a provision for how indigent probationers are handled while under private probation supervision that strictly limits supervision fees, encourages community service alternatives to payment, and enforces the U.S. Supreme Court’s requirement that no one be imprisoned for failure to pay a fine or fee unless the court determines that the failure is willful.

It has been extensively reported that Georgia boasts the highest rate of correctional control in the nation, with one of every thirteen people being behind bars or on probation or parole. The current economic climate has provided an opportunity for revisiting expensive and ineffective polices that do not contribute to public safety; in some situations even perpetuate the incarceration cycle, and erect barriers for successful reentry into society.

Founded in 1976, the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to enforcing the civil and human rights of people involved in the criminal justice system in Georgia and Alabama.

Follow me on the twitters @stefanturk


  1. John Konop says:

    Non violent drug/alcohol offences are the lowest hanging fruit, to make the biggest impact, as well as mental health issues.

    The problem is not only have we criminalized this health issue we have made rehabilitation, expensive and difficult.

    1) The record issue makes job search difficult.
    2) Throwing students out of college does not help with gaining skills
    3) Expensive fines and rehabilitation programs makes it a system that hurts the majority that cannot afford the system…….
    4) We are using prisons as a mental health look up facilities over treatment.

    I would suggest the following:

    1) Decriminalize drugs and grant a pardon to all non violent drug offenders ie no longer applying for job with record
    2) Promote trade school training to lower drop-out rate and waive college prep No Child Left behind requirements
    3) Allow first time offender driving under the influence offenders to get waivers for work and or school
    4) Give judges, prosecutors and police the ability to work with non violent offenders based on them staying out of trouble

    5) Invest in mental health facilities over prisons, and provide medication as well as counseling when needed. It is better for society and more cost effective to treat people with mental health issues rather than use the prison system. It is smarter to have people following up on mental health patients taking their meds rather than looking them up.

    Not only is this above more humane it would save tax payers a ton of money.

    • saltycracker says:

      The stats from the dept. of correction add validity to taking another look at the laws on drugs and mental issues.

      The report of some 21,000 2011 admissions makes some nteresting reading.

      The inmate is an unmarried 30 something, black male, white female, Baptist with a high school or less education, from a household with the father absent, who was not subject to beatings, no prior GA incarceration and is serving a 4 year sentence for property damage (33%), violent behavior (26%) or drugs (23%).

      Lots of other factoids like 65% had no military experience but 20% served in the Air Force.

    • caroline says:

      That’s too much common sense for the majority of &*()#@ in the gold dome. I had a family member who had SERIOUS mental health problems and getting help was pretty much nonexistent in this state. We finally did what everybody else did and that was let her go to jail because it seemed the only way she could get any help at all.

      • John Konop says:

        The BJS reports about 50 percent of people in prisons have mental health issues. If we would of just given the people their meds and counseling we would of materially lowered the number. Not only is this the humane way to take care of this health issue, it makes society safer as well as saves tax payer money. Another big issue is society treating mental health issues not like a broken leg……Would you tell someone with a broken leg to just toughen up? My heart goes out to you and your family, I have friends in the same situation, and it is very tough.

    • dorian says:


      1. Unfortunately, that is an oversimplification. First, most people with drug convictions don’t just have drug convictions. If you’re a cocaine addict, you need money to buy it and that has to come from somewhere. So where do we draw the line? Do we excuse thefts but not armed robbery? Do we excuse residential burglaries because the person was an addict? Second, not all drugs are equal. For example, no one would seriously argue meth should be legal. The manufacturing of it literally creates a toxic waste dump that can cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars to clean up. Wanna know who pays for that in the majority of cases? You do, through your tax dollars.
      3. Already exists, there is a provisional license that first time offenders can get to do precisely that.
      4. Already exists, DA’s have the authority to operate pre trial diversions.
      5. Not with this legislature. GA was (maybe still is) under federal oversight for the mismanagement of the mental health system due to a number of deaths because of lack of supervision. Their “solution” was to close the majority of the inpatient facilities and reduce the bed spaces of others. It was just too expensive for them to do it right.

  2. caroline says:

    Of course cost savings do not materialize with privatization. Anybody who has had either basic business courses or an economics class in college can tell you that adding a middle man always raises the costs. The thing about prison privatization I do not like is that the incentive is to put people in jail. The more people in jail the more money the corporation gets from the state and then the corporation has more money to donate to campaigns to keep the gravy train rolling for them.

    • saltycracker says:

      “A middleman always raises costs.”
      Not if the middleman has superior productivity and efficiency, better controlled costs, minimal waste and fraud, doesn’t have escalated non-work employee costs and top heavy administration.

      • saltycracker says:

        Comments aren’t directed at supporting privatized prison systems but rejecting the notion of unneeded middlemen and the general idea they aren’t worth looking into.

        Neither private or public prisons have any incentive to raise their numbers – they have plenty of customers – look elsewhere in the system.

  3. ricstewart says:

    Don’t forget to thank the Corrections Corporation of America for our expensive anti-immigrant laws, including HB 87.

  4. ieee says:

    It’s immoral to make a profit imprisoning people. Someone needs to figure out how our criminal governments can run legitimate prisons efficiently. Put business people in charge instead of little people who love laws and imprisoning people.

    Private probation and parole companies should be eliminated immediately. They are immoral. There are many law enforcement people in Georgia (many sheriffs, for example) who, when they need something, these companies are always aware of it and are always the first in line to give them money or other resources. It should be illegal.

    Drugs should not be illegal. Who are these people who think they have a right to tell a person what he/she may put into his/her own body? If someone wants to drink gasoline, is that somehow your business? Let’s promote some personal responsibility for a change, instead of nanny government.

    As someone who is listed on a nanny big government Registry, I was done with people not being able to mind their own business a long time ago. If people could somehow stop being so, so concerned about telling other people what to do, we could easily cut our prison population in half.

    • saltycracker says:

      As long as society requires the moral to pay and suffer the consequences for immoral behavior, they have a say in the definitions.

      If someone wants to drink gasoline it’s unfortunately not legal if you want to give them a cigarette not an ambulance, stomach pump & hospital stay.

Comments are closed.