The Big (Profits) House

August 13th, 2010

Republicans cite cost savings as the reason for their desire to privatize

Or maybe it’s to get contributions from their corporate allies.

They push privatization even when it costs more,

And prefer the benefits of public service to ignore.

But mostly, privatization seems a knee-jerk reaction,

Part and parcel of their anti-government dissatisfaction.

They don’t want government to do anything

Except fight wars, keep out immigrants, and keep gays from marrying.

Privatizing prisons can save money, but not always,

So it’s not a very good reason for the privatization craze.

A GAO Study found the results were inconclusive—

The savings promised are sometimes elusive.

Arizona has in the past adopted a balanced technique,

Privatizing some prisons, cost savings to seek.

They do a bi-annual comparison of private and public expenditures,

Which cost-effectiveness for both private and public prisons ensures.

In the initial years, private prisons were more cost-effective,

But since 2007, the tables have turned and State-run prisons are less expensive.

They also get equal quality and management evaluations,

So there’s no reason to turn the rest of the prisons over to corporations.

Yet last year, that’s exactly what Arizona Republicans attempted

(Perhaps by the prospects of more campaign contributions tempted).

The legislature passed a bill to privatize 9 of the10 remaining state penal institutions

(Once again, that’s lots more campaign contributions).

Governor Brewer likes the GOP privatization line, and will usually tow it,

But the bill raised so many questions, she felt forced to veto it.

Some functions (like executions) shouldn’t be privatized, almost everyone agrees.

(Also, two of Brewer’s close advisors had connections to private prison companies.)

But the privatization supporters continue with their corporate partners to conspire,

And now the stakes are even higher:

With all the SB1070 arrests potentially looming,

The prison business will soon be booming.


Here’s Rachel’s 8/12/10 “INCarceration” report on the prision escape problems in Arizona’s private prisons, in spite of which Arizona Republicans are pushing to privatize the entire state prison system. And coincidentally, one of the private prison industry’s lobbyists was a key advisor to Gov. Brewer for Arizona’s “papers please” law, which could dramatically increase the prison population. In Gov. Brewer’s defense, though she’s a strong private prison supporter, she did (under pressure from her political opponent, Arizona AG Terry Goddard, a Dem and prison privatization opponent) veto the prison privatization bill last year after questions were raised about its propriety, but renewed efforsts are ongoing by the industry and it’s political supporters.


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Here’s Arizona AG Terry Goddard exposing abuses while undercover at a privately run prison. (OK, just kidding. It’s actually Robert Redford in the title role of the movie Brubaker, based on the true story of Tom Murton, a state prison superintendent who exposed scandalous abuses and murders in a state prison in Arizona.

Here’s Stephen Colbert’s 11/03/09 “The Green Mile” report on last year’s Arizona prison super-privatization legislation. Stephen makes one of the best arguments I’ve ever heard in favor of privatizing government services.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word – The Green Mile
Colbert Report Full Episodes 2010 Election Fox News

Here’s your theme music, Folsom Prison Blues by the immortal Johnny Cash.

Here are some additional reports on the subject, including the GAO study referred to above:

In Comparing the Performance of Private and Public Prisons (Reason Foundation 4/04/08), Geoffrey Segal attacks the FY07 study (I didn’t find anything by him about the 2009 one, so maybe he’s given up), saying that some of the adjustments to make cost figures more comparable were unfair (some, he acknowledges, were justifiable). Segal emphasizes that private prisons were more cost-effective in the past, to which I would counter that if that’s no longer true, then why do more privatization now? Segal adds that in the first year cost and performance were compared, private prisons outperformed state-run prisons in seven of 10 measure, while in the second year, private facilities and ADC split those measures five to five. The 2009 report doesn’t include an updated comparison, but given the string of escapes in private prisons Rachel refers to, it seems that state-run prisons may not be out-performing private ones.

Those who championed privatization in its early years can justifiably point to a success: privately run prisons, at least in Arizona, do seem to have both reduced costs, and also seem to have given state-run facilities a strong and effective incentive to control their own costs and improve management. That’s win-win. However, that success doesn’t argue for privatization of all or most of the remaining state-run Arizona prisons. First, there’s the propriety issue that caused Gov. Breyer to veto that legislation last year: as Rachel reports above, several of Gov. Brewer’s close advisors had close ties to private prison companies. And more broadly, do we really want private sector employees to be performing executions? Second, since privatizers believe that competition reduces costs, why not allow that benefit to be continued by maintaining both private and state-run prisons, particularly when the cost differential is so small. Doing that would seem to counter the principal of healthy competition that privatizers tout as one of the cost-reducing benefits of privatization.

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