Friday, 29 October 2004

Private Prisons

Economist Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution argues in favor of prison privatization in the Pasadena Star-News.

More than two decades of experience with private prisons in the United States, Great Britain, Australia and elsewhere attest to the fact that private prisons can be built and operated at lower cost than public prisons.

Cost savings of 15 to 25 percent on construction and 10 to 15 percent on management are common. These are modest but significant cost savings in a $5.7 billion state system that continues to grow more expensive every year.

Private prisons not only have lower costs than public prisons: by introducing competition they encourage public prisons to also innovate and lower costs.

Back in August I wrote

If one is of a libertarian bent (as I am) with regard to victimless crimes such as drug use and prostitution, the problem would seem to be that imprisoning people doesn’t cost the government nearly enough. After all, the marginal prisoner is a lot more like Tommy Chong than Charles Manson.

To put it another way: if California were to save 15% on the per prisoner cost of incarcerating someone through privatization, how much of that savings would be returned to California taxpayers (through lowered taxes or paying off California’s debt), and how much would be used to incarcerate even more people through “tough on crime” measures like California’s three strikes law?