An increasingly popular trend in state governments across the country is to privatize prisons. The New Hampshire legislature just voted to do it in that state with the promise that it would save taxpayers $10 million over the next two years. Most of these private prisons are in the southwest, so I guess an inmate from Nashua might do his time in Nogales. This strategy might not be the cost-saving panacea it’s advertised to be. A recent article in the New York Times disputes the magnitude of the claimed savings and points out that the private prisons are contractually obligated to take only the healthiest prisoners. If one gets sick, he gets shipped back to the sending state for care and government incarceration.
Even if the claims of cost savings are accurate, I don’t think this is a good idea. There are certain fundamental things that government should do itself – police and fire protection or two that come to mind. Incarcerating prisoners is another. That’s our collective responsibility and we should do it within our own jurisdiction in a humane but not extravagant manner. Shipping prisoners to some far-away institution simply to save money seems very 19th century. But that seems to be the target era of much of the political agenda being pushed these days. I used to say there was a movement afoot in this country to roll our social policies back to the age before Roosevelt. At the time, I meant Franklin, now I think before Theodore is more the case.