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Archive for Monday, September 11, 1995

PRISONS

September 11, 1995

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A Virginia venture involving a Kansas City company is worth a close look to see if privately operated prisons can lessen the load on taxpayers and perhaps salvage souls.

Privately operated prisons could become increasingly common in view of the rapidly growing demands on American taxpayers to provide holding sites and correctional facilities for criminals.

A Kansas City, Mo., company is one of those working to get a contract to build and operate the state of Virginia's first private prison. The Virginia Department of Corrections has begun contract negotiations with Corrections Partners Inc.

Virginia Gov. George Allen's administration is promoting prison privatization as a cost-saving measure. The 1994 General Assembly authorized 3,800 of the 10,000 private prison beds the administration wants to add over the next decade to deal with the crime problem. Five private prisons the Kansas City company already operates have had no escapes, inmate uprisings or other major problems, officials say. Corrections Partners Inc. last month became a wholly owned subsidiary of Corrections Corporation of America, which operates about 35 private prisons with about 25,000 beds nationwide.

Costs, for startups, operation and maintenance, are obviously a major factor in any such venture. So is the notion of private policy as opposed to public policy. There is always danger of payoffs and corruption. But this exists in public places of incarceration. Close looks at the other CCA "private prisons" will be necessary in the Virginia decision.

But if privately operated prisons, well-regulated and controlled by governmental agencies can be made to succeed, many could benefit, including the inmates. Taxpayers could have their burdens lightened, the private firms could try to operate at a profit and might thus be more inventive, and there is a chance that prisons would become truly correctional and rehabilitative. It could be that the impact of current "schools for crime" would be lessened substantially, and the rate of criminal recidivism could be greatly lessened.

If private agencies can operate facilities such as golf courses, hospitals and such under governmental supervision, it stands to reason prisons of such a nature could become more numerous.

It's certainly worth a closer and more penetrating look in every state.

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