8 Integral Pros and Cons of Private Prisons

At one time, all prisons were public, but the system has started to make a transition to a new age, where private prisons began to emerge and eventually changed the system as a whole.

Private and public prisons are not one in the same. The former are for-profit businesses where, like the latter, convicted criminals are also confined. They are contracted by the government with the aim to alleviate the strain and congestion that is experienced by federal prison systems. In the US, the number of private prisons is continuously increasing at such a rate that it started to raise some eyebrows. What benefits are gained from these institutions and what is being sacrificed? This topic is increasingly causing a controversy and sparking debate among opposite sides. To gain a good perspective about this, let us take a look at the pros and cons associated with private prisons.

List of Pros of Private Prisons

1. Lower Cost
Probably, the biggest reason why private prisons are put into place is the substantially lower operating costs they can run their systems under. They are capable of buying necessary supplies in bulk and find the best prices, unlike institutions that are run by the government under strict contracts. They can even hire more staff to reduce any overtime costs that may be acquired.

Also, the total cost the government pays to private prison companies is lesser than the cost of housing inmates on their own, which means that closing deals with private companies to accommodate prisoners can be financially beneficial to the government. Another main reason that private prisons can save money for the government is the lower cost of labor that they can pay to employees. These institutions can employ guards at lower wages, unlike federal prisons who pay higher salaries to government employees. So, as long as there are prisons that are privately owned, we can save a lot of money on things.

2. Better Performance
Generally, the performance standards in private institutions are higher than those that are met publicly. Also, private firms that make agreements with the government to run prisons are looking to retain their contracts in the future, which means their performance is important and there is a greater incentive to make sure that this is maintained at high levels. This type of motivation cannot be found in the public sector.

Also, private prisons are often safer and are also more effective when it comes to creating a rehabilitation environment. Not only that their living standards for inmates are often improved, but also their ability to acclimate their residents back into society after their terms is more effective. As previously stated, better performance is simply what can be seen in private prisons alone, and not the same standards are seen in public prisons mainly because of the lack of incentive.

3. Improved Care Quality
Since private prisons operate in a free market economy, the competition that is present among them prompts them to provide better care quality. Usually, this quality is provided at a lower cost than government-ran incarceration facilities could deliver. This is definitely advantageous for everyone.

4. Less Red Tape
Due to the fact that private prisons are not associated with the government, they can make decisions much faster. This also means funding allocation, dealing with major issues and changing policies is much simpler.

List of Cons of Private Prisons

1. More Focus on Profits
Prisons are responsible of providing care to and protecting human lives. While the residents in these institutions have committed crime, they still deserve to be treated ethically. But when money is brought into the situation, it turns these services into profit. Then, cost cutting will become an inevitable part of a business, and sacrifices will be made to the prisoners’ well-being in order to save some extra dollars.

2. Issue of Transparency
Public prison systems are designed to be transparent, which means that the government is straightforward with every operation that goes on in these institutions. On the other hand, transparency is something that could eventually become an issue in private prisons. Since they are privately owned, they are not held to the testaments of transparency like that of government agencies. This issue is highly important to tackle as all staff members within a prison should be required to observe high ethical standards. Ethically treating prisoners will be hindered if transparency is not maintained.

3. Not in the Best Interest of Prisoners
Basically, these private prisons are able to earn money from the prisoners that they keep, which means that they do not want to lose them. This can also mean good behavior and other early release programs would often be neglected in these for-profit institutions.

4. Too Much Dependency
One of the very relevant issues that would come up when discussing the topic of privately operated and owned prisons is dependency. Well, there is a risk that the government could eventually become too dependent on private companies to operate prison systems as a whole. This implies that the introduction of prison systems to the private sector may be posing a great danger and may lead to a transition that could backfire.

There are many opportunities to make savings when we turn to private firms for our incarceration systems, but this could also eventually lead to increased expenses for the private prisons’ operations. Just because the cost of running these institutions is currently lower would not mean that it will be the trend forever. It is important to note that as their needs increase, so will their cost of operation. Private prisons are capable of low balling their bid for the government, and the latter could become too dependent on the former when expenses drastically start to rise.


While they are necessary, private prisons need to be more closely regulated and monitored in the same way that federal prisons are. This way, moral and ethical problems in these institutions will not get out of hand. Now, are you a supporter or an opponent of private prisons?