Private prisons hold people for longer than government facilities, according to new data

Private prisons in Mississippi hold incarcerated people an average of 90 days longer than public ones, a new study reports

We go to the American Economic Association’s Journal on Economic Policy for this week’s report on the impact of private prisons on inmate time and rates of recidivism. Anita Mukherjee examines private prison contracting in Mississippi; her study focuses on the effects of privatization effects on inmates, instead of cost benefit where previous research in this topic has largely concentrated.

  • 10% of prisoners in the United States are housed in private prisons where contractors own and operate them for personal profit.

  • Theoretically, these prisons are supposed to save states’ money.

  • The data revealed that incarcerated people in private prisons spend four to seven percent longer, 85-90 more days, than their counterparts in public prisons.

  • This is somewhat due to the fact that people in private prisons serve a greater part of their sentence than people in public prisons and don’t get released as early.

  • There is a significantly higher rate of infraction for private prisons: nearly 46% of incarcerated people in private prisons commit infractions which can reduce the probability of an early release or add sentence time.

  • It is unclear why there are more infractions in private prisons, but Dr. Mukherjee, who conducted the study, says it could be due to “harsher prison conditions in private prisons,” different monitoring techniques, or employee attitudes.

Screenshot from “Impact of Private Prison Contracting on Inmate Time Served and Recidivism” report from the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy
  • Recidivism [the rate at which people return to jail or prison after being freed because of reoffending or violating parole] is not reduced by time spent in prison.

  • Any reduction in cost to states from sending people to private prisons is canceled out by the longer time inmates spend in private facilities, according to the study.

  • One study cited estimates 90 days of incarceration equals $15,000 in lost wages and increased reliance on government assistance.

The study further shows we really don’t know if private prisons save a significant amount of money or truly reduce recidivism, both selling points corporations use to get states to outsource their correctional needs.

Read the full report here.

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