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Private Isn't Always Better

For some of my friends of the libertarian ilk, it is nearly an article of faith that private businesses always perform any function better than government agencies.  I do not doubt that is true for a wide variety of functions, but not all.  Joel Millman has this story in the WSJ (subscription) on the growing disenchantment with privately run prisons:

Corrections policy is at a crossroads in Idaho as government officials decide how to staff the 2,060-bed Idaho Correctional Center now that the country's largest private prison operator has decided to quit the state.
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America's private-prison boom, which crested about a decade ago among the states when inmate populations were on the rise, has waned now that states are seeking ways to trim budgets and find cheaper approaches to housing prisoners. Since the beginning of 2012, officials have announced prison closings in Florida, Michigan, New York and Virginia, as inmate populations have shrunk and state budgets tightened.

In 1999, U.S. state prisons contracted with private jailers to house over 67,000 prisoners--a population that rose to over 96,000 by 2008. But the trend has reversed over the past five years, Bureau of Justice Statistics figures show.

Watching their budget bottom lines, states began to step back from contracts with private corrections services as those contracts became costly. Michigan dropped plans this month to house 968 offenders in a privately run jail. Officials rejected bids from two for-profit operators whose proposed budgets exceeded--by millions of dollars--what the state says it spends to house those inmates.

For other reasons, states are concluding that privatizing doesn't automatically mean savings.

Even when private firms' bids promise savings, state officials must calculate whether those suppliers can deliver--and do so without exposing governments to risks from inmate litigation.

Such litigation is part of CCA's legacy in Idaho. Two recent lawsuits alleged persistent understaffing at the prison facility here, leading to dangerous conditions with gangs running rampant, according to the plaintiffs.

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