Feds don’t know if private prisons save money

FILE -In a March 13, 2012 file photo, Gary Mead, executive associate director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Enforcement and Removal Operations, speaks to reporters by a soccer field at a new civil detention facility for low-risk detainees in Karnes City, Texas, on Tuesday, March 13, 2012. The U.S. is locking up more illegal immigrants than ever before, generating a lucrative business for the nation's largest prison companies. Mead said that the government has never studied if privatizing immigrant detention saves money. Photo: Will Weissert / AP
ICE associate executive director Gary Mead says his agency has never asked whether private prisons save money.

By Alan Bean

An AP article published in the Houston Chronicle features a startling revelation.  According to Gary Mead, ICE Executive Associate Director for Enforcement and Removal Operations, the federal government has never studied whether privatizing immigrant detention saves money.

In other words, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is paying the private prison industry $166 per day for each detained individual, but has no idea whether this price is justified.

The plot thickens when you realize that the private prison industry owes its survival to federal, immigration-related contracts.  At the close of the twentieth century, the private prison industry was down for the count; then the federal cavalry rode to the rescue and the days of wine and roses descended with a trumpet fanfare.

This is simply one more indication that mass deportation, in all facets, is a horribly wasteful job creation program.

So why are the feds showing such veneration for an industry that has been wracked by sustained allegations of inefficiency, gross incompetence, cruelty, inadequate facilities, under-staffing and training deficits?

I can think of only one explanation: the unscientific hunch that the private sector is intrinsically more efficient and capable than its public counterpart.

That may be true regarding the mass manufacture of widgets and designer blue jeans; but if we’re talking health care, corrections, or any other not-for-profit service, the public sector does a better job precisely because the only goal is to provide a service.

Here’s the big problem.  The goal of any private corporation is to maximize profit; the quality of the service provided matters only to the extent that customer satisfaction feeds the bottom line.  But with only three corporations competing for contracts, there isn’t much competition in the private prison game.  As a result, companies like Geo and CCA charge the feds whatever the market will bear without having to prove that the tax payer is getting any bang for the buck.

Mass deportation is a cruel and counterproductive policy by any measure; but if we’re going to cage human beings, the work should go to trained and adequately compensated public servants who are accountable to American public.

One thought on “Feds don’t know if private prisons save money

  1. Mass deportation is an ugly step-child of mass incarceration, and a bastard sibling of the war on drugs. Any business which profits from these ill-conceived and ill-begotten policies is an immoral business, however legal it may be. Any business which profits from human suffering is an immoral business.

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