Why Do States Privatize their Prisons? The Unintended Consequences of Inmate Litigation
By Anna Gunderson, Louisiana State University
The United States has witnessed privatization of a variety of government functions over the last three decades. Media and politicians often attribute the decision to privatize to ideological commitments to small government and fiscal pressure. These claims are particularly notable in the context of prison privatization, where states and the federal government have employed private companies to operate and manage private correctional facilities. I argue that state prison privatization is not a function of simple ideological or economic considerations. Rather, prison privatization has been an unintended consequence of the administrative and legal costs associated with litigation brought by prisoners. I assemble an original database of prison privatization in the United States and demonstrate that the privatization of prisons is best predicted by the legal pressure on state corrections systems, rather than the ideological orientation of a state government.