What Is A Private Prison?

Barbed wire fences are important security features at private prisons.
Barbed wire fences are important security features at private prisons.

Private Prisons

In response to the rising numbers of prisoners, several governments around the world have embraced the use of private prisons. Private prisons are confinements run by private individuals through a contractual agreement with the government. Methods used to establish private prisons include the privatization of public prisons, contracting managerial powers of a public prison to a private company or corporation, or getting granted permission from the government to build a private prison.

Private prisons have existed since the 19th century. Their use increased in the 20th century and continues to rise in some states. When a government makes a contractual agreement with a private prison, it makes payments per prisoner or vacancy in jail on a regular basis for maintenance of the prisoners.

Why Use Private Prisons?

Private prisons are seen as an alternative place for housing convicts to ease the congestion in public prisons. It is considered easier to run a low-cost budget while providing similar treatment to prisoners as in public prisons. Sometimes, better rehabilitation and training programs are also offered to inmates in private prisons. The US government has increased its reliance on private prisons for the detention of immigrants who commit civil crimes.

The use of private prisons has grown rapidly in the Trump administration due to the extension of the minimum jail term for illegal immigration entry to five years. The increase will raise the national population of inmates by more than 65,000. Therefore, more private prisons will be needed.


Several religious groups, political groups and individuals have criticized the use of private prisons as being insecure as a means of housing prisoners. For instance, three inmates held in the Kingman Arizona State Prison escaped and carried out several murders, kidnappings, and robberies. Though the three were apprehended, critics raised the question of how secure private prisons are. Improving security by investing in surveillance cameras, guards, sturdy fences and requiring thorough visitor screening measures were safety measures that were discussed.

Private prisons are criticized for maintaining an appearance of cost-effectiveness and efficiency, while in reality the institutions are understaffed and unsuitable for handling prisoners. The American Civil Liberties Union has cited a lack of accountability on behalf of private prisons regarding how they run their activities and manage their funds. Failings in accountability lead to poor sanitary and health services. Some private prisons have been accused of bribing judges to give longer sentences to convicts before sending them to the private prison.

Some private prisons also use a lot of force when handling inmates. The Ashfield Young Offenders Institution and the Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre have recorded increasing cases of force with hundreds of attacks on inmates every year. In response, several states have reduced their dependence on private prisons by canceling contracts and banning importation and exportation of prisoners. Other countries have banned the construction of private prisons without an approved contract.


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