THE PRIVATIZATION OF CORRECTIONS

THE JOHN HOWARD SOCIETY OF ALBERTA

1998

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Privatization, defined as the “systematic transfer of government functions and programs into the private sector” (Schichor, 1995, p. 1), has been a growing trend in Canada in the last 10 to 15 years. In Canada most private corrections contracts operate on a fee-for-service basis. Fee-for-service is a reciprocal model whereby one side is obligated to recompense the other side for the benefits received in the transaction. Contracting for service involves contracting out specific services such as food services, medical and health services, diversion programs, halfway houses, restitution programs and alcohol and drug treatment programs.

There are many advantages of contracting with external agencies for the provision of services. Examples include community participation, better communication, community education, greater diversity and greater knowledge and expertise in service delivery.

There are a number of issues and concerns that arise when discussing the privatization of corrections. First, voluntary sector organizations must be on guard against the possibility that external economic and political issues will determine their course of activity. Second, agencies often put their assets at risk in signing contracts that can be cancelled by the government with as little as 60 days notice. Third, can an organization count on the government to carry its share of accountability should a sensational incident occur in a program that an agency is contracted to provide? Finally, where does the voluntary agency’s authority begin or end? That is, what is the extent to which the government can determine how a contracted agency is governed and managed?

Currently, in correctional centres across Alberta, contracted services include: dental care, physicians, some mental health services, food services, laundry services chaplaincy, Aboriginal Elders, several camp operations and one minimum security Aboriginal correctional centre. In the community, Alberta Justice out-sources some psychological services, various types of community supervision programs, life-skills programs, treatment beds, offender visitation programs and various other services for offenders. In total, Alberta Justice contracts out $18 million in services and programs, of which about $7.7 million is for Aboriginal programs.

The privatization of services to for-profit companies is a recent development in the privatization of corrections. These factors have enabled the privatization of correctional facilities to emerge as an acceptable operational concept: “the growing cost of incarceration; the failure of costly, extensive, and well-intentioned rehabilitative experiments; and the willingness of government and the public to consider privatization of incarcerations” (McCrie, 1993, p. 27).

There are many issues involved in the prisons for profit debate. Proponents argue that private prisons save money, reduce prison overcrowding and decrease bureaucracy by being more flexible and able to adapt to change quickly. Opponents, however, argue that private prisons reduce the quality of services, do not actually result in cost savings and, above all, are legally wrong and wrong as a matter of principle.

The prisons for profit issue continues to be debated in provinces across the country. In the United States, however, the number of private prisons are increasing due to overcrowded prisons, a pro- privatization political climate, a fragmented correctional system and a decentralized authority.

The prison industry has been an ongoing focus for corrections officials in both Canada and the United States. The growing trend is toward developing industries which operate as viable businesses that compete fairly in the open marketplace.

The advantages of prison industry programs include, providing productive services to the community, providing a source of income to inmates, increasing an inmate’s self-esteem, providing a real-world work environment for inmates and increasing offender rehabilitation and chances of obtaining employment upon release. One disadvantage, critics suggest, is that prison industries may actually take away jobs from non-incarcerated labourers. Second, the question of how the industry will provide incentives to inmate workers has been raised. Should these incentives be mandatory or credited for good behaviour?

In Canada, the most common public example of prison industry is CORCAN, a federal corrections initiative. Currently, CORCAN programs operate in 32 institutions across Canada employing 4,000 offenders and 317 staff throughout the year. CORCAN operates five main business lines: Agribusiness, Construction, Manufacturing, Services and Textiles. By running CORCAN like a business, it is hoped that it will generate revenue to defray the costs of materials, training, marketing, sales and distribution.


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