The History and Politics of Private Prisons: A Comparative Analysis

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The privatization movement is very important to public and private managers alike. Although the Reagan and Bush administrations' policy suggestions for prison overcrowding have been limited, a consistent theme has been that states and local governments should overcome the corrections crises through the use of privatization techniques, one of which is allowing the private sector to operate and manage prisons and jails. President Bush's "thousand points of light" philosophy urges the same reliance on privatization of government services, including corrections, and a whole host of national studies strongly suggests that the private sector can perform the corrections function more efficiently than the public sector. The purpose of The History and Politics of Private Prisons in America is to examine the history of the movement, establish how politics affects it, and provide practitioners, politicians, academics, and students with alternative thinking about the value of privatizing prison management.
In the first two chapters, author Martin P. Sellers provides a brief history of incarceration and surveys the current privatization movement in the United States, identifying its roots in economics, politics, and administration. Chapter 3 identifies the many political, economic, social, and administrative arguments against privatization and attempts to explain how these arguments developed.
In chapter 4, Sellers analyzes three private prisons, comparing them to three public prisons, to determine which group is more efficient at providing prison services, particularly health and education services. In his analysis, it is determined that a great number of barriers exist against the private prison movement. The perception of what these barriers are differs significantly from public official to private prison manager.
The final chapters analyze the policymaking process that both supports and inhibits the private prison movement. Policymaking involves many actors and institutions of government, and an array of entities influencing policy from outside government. The issue-network interested in corrections is wide-ranging and committed to a certain perspective. This study identifies influential policy actors and alternatives for how the policymaking process might be adjusted, so that the public sector would benefit from the useful alternative of private management in the correction industry.

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