Stephen Raher


To understand the contemporary use of contractor-operated prisons, one must appreciate the political and economic developments which allowed privatization to enter the corrections industry. Accordingly, this article starts with a brief history of privatized corrections in the United States. The following section explores how the modem marketplace for private prisons has been shaped by two prominent dynamics-the emergence of a national market for prison beds and the massive expansion of the nation's immigrant detention system. The paper then considers the general implications of non-governmental prison operation, with a focus on how contractors have exploited their private status to the detriment of inmates, taxpayers, and contracting agencies. Over the past two decades, researchers, correctional professionals, and policy-makers have devoted substantial time to debating the efficacy of prison privatization-both in terms of operational success and cost savings. Such debates usually presuppose that the participants' arguments are based on reliable data concerning private prisons' record. As discussed in this article, private prison operators have prevented the adequate dissemination of information to support their claims of success; however, because of the general public lack of interest in the details of prison operations, such information asymmetry has generally gone unnoticed.