Problematizing prison privatization: an overview of the debate

Mehigan, James and Rowe, Abigail (2007). Problematizing prison privatization: an overview of the debate. In: Jewkes, Yvonne ed. Handbook on Prisons. Cullompton: Willan, pp. 356–376.



The private provision of penal services is just one aspect of a wider movement to roll back the state's involvement in the criminal justice system. In the prison system, privatization - or contracting out - is manifested in several ways, including prison escort services, prison work programmes, electronic monitoring of offenders released from prison and the financing of prison construction. The most contentious form of contracting out, however, has proved to be the management and operation of prisons by private investors. This chapter seeks to situate the private management of prisons in modern penal systems in a historical context and to prvide an overview of the questions, opportunities and risks that this trend in policy brings about. The debates surrounding privatization are discussed in terms of cost and efficiency, the quality of service provided, the legitimacy of private prisons and the expansion of what has been termed the penal-industrial complex (Garland 2001; Coyle et al. 2006).

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