Privatizing Correctional Services

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This volume presents papers selected from those given at the Fraser Institute's Conference The Privatization of Correctional Services held in Toronto, July 10-11, 1996. The process of privatizing correctional facilities and functions has been taking place in a number of countries for the past 20 years and, although in Canada some aspects of service provision are already performed by the private sector, privatization of major prison services is just beginning. As in other areas of this sort, the services provided by government are not synonymous with services being produced by government.

Lower costs, better safety for prisoners and staff, and more facilities within the prison, are just some of the potential gains that have sparked interest in privatization. The first two chapters explore where it is that provision of correctional services by the private sector has been taking place and what issues have been raised in consequence.

The chapters in this book consider both pros and cons in the privatization debate. The situation today differs from that of 20 years ago because we now have experience with the product. The process by which a government chooses to privatize is important, and, as our authors have described, there are clearly things that should and should not be done. From the perspective of governments, prison privatization is clearly worth trying since it appears be less costly on a simple dollars and cents basis, and the level of service is at least comparable and arguably better than that provided in public institutions. How it will fare in longer run has yet to be determined. Will private facilities reduce the dreadful recidivism we currently have? Will inmates lead more useful lives after release?

These kinds of questions are difficult to answer at the present time but they remain the hope of those looking at current arrangements. By acknowledging the important issues, these essays represent a bridge to a richer understanding of the costs of incarceration that need to be marked into the ledger book in addition to the simple costs of prison construction and operation.

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