"Privatization" refers to the process whereby functions performed by government are transferred to the private sector. For many government services, this transfer can be accomplished in several ways, including user fees, voucher funding, and outright load-shedding. Corrections, however, presents certain economic, legal, and political issues that, in the near future, will likely limit privatization attempts to a single method: contracting out. [32] Given that the first prisons in America were privately owned and operated (Pennsylvania's early prisons were operated by Quaker societies) the current discussion of privatization in corrections could just as easily be called the "reprivatization" of corrections. [33]

Short of turning the entire facility over to a private entity, there has long been a private sector presence in Federal, State, and County corrections facilities through the practice of contracting out of one or more correctional facilities services previously supplied in-house by government employees. A survey released in 1984 by the National Institute of Corrections indicated that such private sector involvement takes the form of services provided by nonprofit groups who concentrate their efforts in adult community treatment centers, halfway houses, and some juvenile facilities [34]: and for-profit firms who provide food preparation, transportation, health (including mental health and drug treatment), community medical treatment, education (including vocational and college-level classes) facility construction, staff training, and facility maintenance. Corrections officials who have made use of private firms for these services have indicated that their decision to use such firms was based upon their discovery that such firms offered greater efficiency and quality than could be obtained "in house" and they expected to make even greater use of such sources of supply in the future. [35] Indeed, even some who are currently critics of the full privatization of prison and jail management , not to mention private sector ownership and management of corrections facilities, support contracting out one or more activities which must, by law, be made available to those who are lodged in jails and prisons. [36]

What is new and controversial is something which goes well beyond having the private sector provide essential services to corrections facilities. It is having private firms take charge of all aspects of a jail, including full management and oversight of jails owned by government through a specific contract with government, as well as construction, ownership, and management of a corrections facility on contract with government. The only difference between these two elements of jail privatization is ownership. In the first "full privatization" approach, government retains ownership of the corrections facility; in the second, every part of the facility is owned by the private firm.

In June, 1987 NIJ published a report on the extent of full privatization of corrections facilities and issued suggestions on proper contracting procedures to public officials who might be considering this approach to solving the problem of jail overcrowding in the face of their limited access to the financial resources needed for solving the problem through traditional 'within system' means. [37] At the time of their survey, NIJ found that approximately 1,200 adults – as distinct from juveniles – were held in secure (emphasis added) correctional facilities privately operated for state and local governments in the United States. NIJ offered a partial list of non-government corrections facilities showing among theinstitutions, by jurisdiction, the following:

(a) State of Kentucky, Marion Adjustment Center, 200 males, minimum security, for-profit contractor.

(b) State of Florida, Beckham Hall Community Correctional Center, Miami, 171 males, unsupervised work release, for-profit contractor.

(c) Bay County, Florida, Jail and Annex, 350 men and women, medium to maximum security, private, for-profit contractor.

(d) Hamilton County (Chattanooga), Tennessee, Silverdale Detention Center, workhouse, 340 men and women, medium to maximum security, for-profit contractor.

(e) Ramsey County, (St. Paul), Minnesota, Roseville Detention Center, 42 females, not-for-profit operator.

NIJ notes further that during the period of Is survey, many states contracted extensively for work release, prerelease, and other nonsecure detention space. California contracted for 1,700 nonsecure beds, Alaska had contracted-out a correctional restitution center, and 5 of Illinois' 15 community correctional centers were privately operated. Furthermore, NIJ indicated that companies or organizations were operating secure (emphasis added) juvenile facilities in 12 States; including Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Massachusetts, and Florida. [38]

Since the publication of NIJ's report, Professor Samuel Jan Brakel of Northern Illinois University School of Law has added additional information on the extent of jail privatization. Given the fact that private firms have had a long history of providing specific services to corrections facilities, as noted above, Brakel argues that the only thing which is unique and controversial in the current jail privatization discussion is the recent rapid expansion of 'the transfer of full management and/or ownership responsibilities of correctional institutions housing sizable populations under substantial security restrictions (emphasis added) – that is, 'primary' facilities or 'real' prisons – from government into the hands of private entrepreneurs who are in the business for profit' [39]. In the year and a half following the NIJ report, Brakel could report that the number of private correctional facilities had grown to some 25 to 30 good-sized facilities, totaling 3,000 beds under private management and preliminary awards to private companies for another 2,500 beds yet to be constructed had already been made. [40]

Why has this occurred? The first and obvious answer is that public officials faced with escalating costs and rising jail populations have been looking for some solution that might help alleviate the burden and think that the private sector may have at least a partial answer to the problem. Anthony Travisono of the American Correctional Association has been quoted as saying that, 'Many public officials hate running jails and find it attractive to get the problems off their backs while saving tax money." [41] Indeed even the Wigan Sheriffs' Association – which laments the growing burden of overcrowded jails but unlike some New Mexico sheriffs, has not yet accepted the idea that the private sector might offer a solution – quotes an unnamed retiring Michigan sheriff who sat, 'A is a sad day when ea sheriff coming into office discovers his job is not so much one of law enforcement as it is one of jail management". [42]

The second: and rat always so obvious, answer is that the private sector – both nonprofit and for-profit – has developed a track record for being able to build and operate correctional facilities more efficiently than the public sector. (Efficiency has only one definition: it means getting more quality and quantity for a given dollar spent or, conversely, unchanged quality and quantity for fewer dollars spent.)

The first private high-security facility dates back to 1975 when RCA (now General Electric) established the Intensive Treatment Unit, a 20-bed, high security, dormitory style training school for delinquents at Weaversville, Pennsylvania. RCA had this facility up and operating within two weeks after the State Attorney General ruled that Juveniles could no longer be kept in the same facility as adults. The second appeared in 1982 when the State of Florida turned over the operation of the Okeechobee School for Boys to the Eckerd Foundation. Prior to this decision – indeed the reason for this decision – the ACLU had filed a lawsuit against the state for "cruel and abusive conditions of confinement in this facility. [43] By the end of 1984, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) had contracts with two private companies for the detention of illegal aliens. The first company, Behavioral Systems Southwest, had been setting up and running detention centers – totaling 350 beds in Arizona, California, and Colorado – for the I NS since 1983. The second, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), constructed and opened a $5 million, 350 bed detention center in Houston in 1984. Currently the State of Texas has four 500-bed medium security prisons under contract – two each to CCA and the Florida-based Wackenhut Security Corporation. The Hamilton County, Tennessee, facility noted above is operated by CCA. Southwest Detention Facilities owns and operates jails for several counties in Texas and Wyoming. [44]

This listing is not intended to be exhaustive, only to indicate that as Michigan considers the problems of overcrowding in its county jails, there are private firms which are already helping other states and counties address similar problems through the application of what f call "outside system" means. Moreover, besides the nonprofit foundations which supply corrections facilities services, as of December, 1988, there were at least seven for-profit firms which stand ready to supply such services [45] and there are twelve states which have passed legislation to permit state and county government to make use of such privately supplied correctional services.