Saturday, March 21, 2009

Private prisons

One of the more damagaing fetishes that swept through conservatism the last couple of decades is the urge to privatize government functions as much as possible.

While attractive in principle for many supporting governmental functions that have private sector equivilents (fleet maintenance for example) I think it can lead to serious trouble when applied to core governmental functions. It's popular to say that government ought to be run like a buisiness, but that's only true in a limited sense. Private sector practices and innovations can be copied by the government when appropriate, but it's important to remember that the goal of a private activity is not the same as a government.

And some state functions are simply inappropriate ti delegate to private parties, especially those having to do with the state's coercive power. While armies, for example, can sometimes save money by using civilian contractor support, the closer to the firing line they are the less appropriate iot is. Likewise therre is a role for private security concerns, but the power to arrest people and use dealy force that we give police offciers can't legitimately be turned over to private parties. It's hard enough to exercise adequate control and protect people's rights when these are agents of the government, let alone private parties.

One core function thta I have alwayts felt was inmappropriate to turn over to private hands in incarceration. The incentives to abuse prisoners or neglect prisoners is too strong and the checks too weak. The prisomers have no power to remove themselves, by definition. I presume the "customers' of the prison system are the law-abiding citizens, but they are not affcted or even aware of the conditions and therefore market forces don't really apply. If there's no market then I dont see how a private sector solution makes sense.

And it turns out that actual experince shows that this is a problem.

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