Prisons are something we don’t talk about as much as we probably should. It’s an incredibly controversial topic in the criminal justice world, but it’s not a part of an average day to day conversation about what’s going on in the world and it’s time to change that. 

A very small percentage of inmates across the nation are housed in private prisons. These are the places that probably don’t come to mind when you think of the average prison. A private prison is contracted by the government, but owned and operated by an unrelated party.

Private prisons have entirely different rules and regulations from public prisons. They have the power to select offenders to house, at the discretion of the owners. The primary difference is the source of funding, which ultimately controls the rest of the day to day operations down the line. 

Private prisons can be controversial in that they are held somewhat less accountable than a public prison controlled by the government. This can lead to lower security and uncontrolled violence. For example, a private prison in Mississippi made headlines when violence got out of control due to leadership involvement in gangs. 

Even though they only host 8% of prisoners, they can have serious effects on the way we treat the criminal justice system. However, private prisons are significantly more common in some states than others. 

Nearly half of states across the US have zero private prisons. Other states, such as Montana, host over a third of all inmates in private prisons. Clearly, there’s inconsistency at the state level of how inmates are placed into correctional facilities. 

But why does it matter? 

When talking about prisoners and criminal justice, we can’t ignore private prisons. They are inherently different from public prisons and require different policies and action plans for security and treatment. 

Prison reform is a matter of human rights. No matter what your political beliefs are, inmates are people too and deserve to be treated with at least some degree of respect. Whatever got them into their current situation, they don’t deserve deprivation of their basic human rights. 

If private prisons are concentrated specifically in certain states, this is an incredibly important piece of knowledge to take into consideration when discussing prison reform. We can not treat America like one universal location where everything is run identically. Thus, we cannot implement universal policy that aims to solve issues at the macro level. 

It’s much more time consuming to look at reform on the individual state level, but it could be much more effective in the long run. Simply stating what needs to happen won’t get things done. In order to see real change, actions need to be taken to correct problems at their root. 

Prisons affect everyone, even if you never get in trouble with the law. Mass incarceration can have profound effects on society in general in ways that often go unnoticed. Crime affects everyone at each stage of the crime, including the punishment and correction.