Privatization of government services has been a growing trend in Canada in the last 10 to 15 years. Privatization is defined as the “systematic transfer of government functions and programs into the private sector” (Schichor, 1995, p.1). Clearly, the main reason for the privatization movement is to reduce costs while maintaining the quality of service (Bowman, Hakim, & Seidenstat, 1993). Supporters of privatization contend that services provided by the private sector generally will be more efficient and less costly than under government operation. Government operation is considered to be unmotivated, ineffective and unresponsive to the public’s needs and demands (Joel, 1993). Until recently, private provision of laundry, food, medical, educational and vocational services for prisons was quite widespread. The new wave of correctional privatization involves such things as prison industries, financing, facility construction, private operation of entire institutions and community- based programs.

The early 1980s were characterized by heated debates targeting the notion of expanding private sector involvement in the correctional system (Durham, 1993). The 1980s and early 1990s witnessed a general sociopolitical climate favouring the reduction of both taxes and the size of government. As well, there was the implementation of “get-tough” social control policies, particularly the “war on drugs” and increasing mandatory prison sentences. In the United States, these policies resulted in an increase in federal and state prison populations. The end result has been an intense debate, with scholars and practitioners arguing both for and against the concept of privatization.

In researching private prisons and prison industries, many theoretical and practical issues have been identified. Unfortunately, there is much less material published in the 1990s that deals with the notion of contracting of services in the field of corrections. The following section will, therefore, largely reflect the John Howard Society’s beliefs and practices concerning this issue.


It is important throughout this paper to distinguish between Canada and the United States in terms of privatization issues. In Canada, private service agencies involved in corrections are generally non- profit and voluntary. When considering the United States, voluntary non-profit services are present, but the for-profit sector holds a stronger position.

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. The method of payment in a fee-for-service contract can vary depending on the service. It can be on a per client, per month basis, or a per diem basis.

Contracting for service is a type of privatization that involves contracting out for specific services such as food services, medical and mental health services, pre-trial release and diversion programs, halfway houses, restitution programs and alcohol and drug treatment programs. Non-profit groups such as the John Howard Society provide a variety of programs for offenders both in the community and in prisons. It is important to note, however, that contract workers in Canada are not paid according to client success or failure.