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Behind the Bars: Experts question benefits of private prisons

Kentucy Courier Journal

Monday, July 5, 2010

ost supporters of for-profit prisons -- in particular, the companies that build and operate them -- contend that the case in favor of privatization is clear and indisputable.

Privately operated prisons, they argue, are cheaper and safer than those run by government, and are at least as accountable to the public.

They don't cut corners. Their employees are well-trained, well-paid and retained at rates comparable to those in the public sector.

They're many of the arguments made by Corrections Corp. of America, the nation's largest operator of private prisons, including the Otter Creek Correctional Center in Eastern Kentucky.

But experts and academic research during the past 20 years have raised serious doubts about the benefits of private prisons.

It is a "myth" that private prisons can provide services better and more cheaply that those run by the government, said Michele Deitch, a University of Texas professor who was part of an American Bar Association task force that drafted proposed national standards on the treatment of prisoners.

"The facts are that private vendors compromise safety and security to keep down costs," Deitch said in an address to a criminal-justice conference in Honolulu last October. "They save money by hiring inexperienced staff at the low end of the wage scale. When you've got inexperienced, poorly trained staff, you've got a recipe for security and safety problems in a prison."

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