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Prison Privatization: A Meta analysis of Cost and Quality of Confinement Indicators

April 2009

Brad W. Lundahl, Chelsea Kunz, Cyndi Brownell, Norma Harris, Russ Van Vleet


This article examines the results of prison privatization and seeks to provide an empirical base from which decisions about privatization might be made. The authors conducted a meta-analysis of reports on comparisons between privately managed and publicly managed prisons. Indicators of cost and quality of confinement were assessed and the results suggest that privately managed prisons provide no clear benefit or detriment to the system. The article finds that cost savings from privatizing prisons are not guaranteed and are minimal and that quality of confinement is similar across privately and publically managed systems, with public prisons delivering slightly better skills training to inmates and have fewer inmate grievances than private prisons.

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Policy Implications

This article may be useful in exploring the broader policy implications of prison privatization including costs and benefits. It explores the arguments from proponents and opponents regarding prison privatization. An empirical argument against privatization may be made based on the finding that publicly managed prisons tend to provide better training programs and seemed to generate fewer complaints or grievances. This article recommends further research be conducted to conclusively determine where both private and public prisons can improve.

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