Tag Archives: private prisons

A loud ‘no!’ on private prisons

Ten of the 25 Democrats running for president have touched tonight on an issue that hits one of my hot buttons: private prisons.

I oppose the concept, the principle, the very idea of farming out the incarceration of prisoners to for-profit companies. My reasons aren’t commonly expressed by politicians who share my views on private prisons.

My take is this:

If we’re going to spend public money to pay police officers to arrest criminal suspects, then spend public money to pay prosecuting attorneys to win convictions in publicly funded courtrooms, then we ought to finish that loop by spending public money to incarcerate these individuals.

Whether they commit white-collar crimes, or any sort of violent crime — and that includes capital crimes — a society that insists on spending enough money to arrest and prosecute criminals should also insist on providing sufficient funds to hold them behind bars for as long as their sentence allows.

Some politicians — and that includes the president of the United States — keep espousing in public the idea that private prisons are somehow OK.

They are not OK, in my humble view. We need to ensure full public accountability for the manner in which they are housed. Private prisons certainly are subject to public review. I just believe it is imperative that we keep that duty in the hands of public institutions, whether it’s at the county, state or federal level.

I’ve never had a problem with building prisons when the lockups get too crowded. Nor do I have a problem with ensuring that the public fulfills its responsibility to the individuals who have paid for their arrest and prosecution.

Feds nix private prisons … good!


I have long disliked the idea of privatizing the prison system.

Whether it’s state prisons or throughout the federal system, the notion of turning the incarceration of convicted criminals over to for-profit business simply strikes me as wrong.

The U.S. Justice Department has decided to end its relationship with private prison companies … to which I offer a hearty cheer.


“They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,” Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates wrote.

I am not going to challenge any of that here.

I simply want to say — as I’ve noted before over many years in journalism — that my opposition to private prisons rests mainly as a matter of principle.

We ask our police departments to protect us from criminals; we pay officers’ salaries with our tax money. We ask the state and county district attorneys to prosecute suspects; we pay them for that, too. We then demand justice in our courts; and we pay judges’ salaries as well.

Then, when criminal defendants are convicted, we are able to farm out their incarceration to private businesses? The way I see it — and I’m open to discussion on this — the state has an obligation to finish the job that public entities began back when the suspect is arrested and charged with committing a crime.

That job ought to include keeping these individuals locked up. It also ought to include full public scrutiny of the job they are doing — on our behalf.

Texas hands over a fair amount of its incarceration responsibilities to private firms. I don’t expect the state to follow the feds’ lead in getting rid of private prisons.

However, I always can hope.

Private prisons taking needed heat

Columbia University has ended its investment program with privately run prisons.

Why? Too many reports of abuse by prison officials.

The report of Columbia ending this particular relationship brings to mind an issue that’s stuck in my craw for years. I’ve never liked the principle of turning over corrections to private businesses.


My belief is that corrections completes a public obligation circle that ought to remain part of the public’s responsibility.

I’m likely to take heat for thinking this, but that’s what I believe.

I look at this in a straightforward way, in my view.

The public pays law enforcement to catch criminals, to arrest them, book them into jail and file detailed reports on what the suspect allegedly did.

Then the public pays the salaries of prosecutors to make the case for the state or the county that the individual is guilty of the crime for which he or she has been accused of committing.

The public also conceivably might pay the salary of the defendant’s lawyer if he or she cannot afford private counsel. It’s part of the Miranda rights text that all criminal suspects are supposed to hear while they’re being arrested.

The judge who presides over a criminal trial is paid from the public trough. The public also pays the jurors — admittedly not much — to determine the suspect’s guilt or innocence.

If jurors convict the defendant, then in my mind it falls on the public to pay for the incarceration of that individual for as long as the publicly paid jury determines he or she should spend in prison.

I’ve long been suspicious of private firms running correctional institutions because the public needs to have ironclad guarantees of its oversight responsibility. The public needs full, complete and unfettered access to everything that goes on behind those walls.

We’ve marched a long way down the road already toward turning over much of our corrections operations over to private firms. I wish we could reverse course.

I didn’t have a particular problem when Texas went on a prison-building boom in the early 1990s to make more room for prisoners. A federal judge had ruled the state had violated inmates’ constitutional rights against “cruel and unusual punishment” by cramming them into prison cells. So, it fell on the state to make it right.

Would a private prison firm be compelled to respond in such a manner?

The public pays for suspects’ arrest, prosecution and sentencing.

The public has a responsibility, therefore, to complete its duty by housing these individuals.