II. Correctional Facilities Administration

Program: Academic/vocational programs


All from GF/GP:




Program Description:

The DOC offers adult basic education programs to all prisoners, aimed at helping them pass the GED exam. The department also offers training in 13 trades, among them: horticulture, custodial maintenance technology, building trades, food-service management, automobile mechanics, visual graphics technology, and optical technician work. [8]

Recommended Action:

The state should eliminate this program by turning over all educational and vocational programs to private, for-profit and non-profit groups. Community activists, prison-focused nonprofits, and unions have an interest in promoting a steady supply of qualified, competent, honorable ex-convict workers, and are in a better position to understand what job skills will be needed in the workplace. Savings: $33,679,800. Governor Granholm’s 2005 proposal decreases the gross appropriation to $33,165,900.


States across the country have been grappling with how to operate their prison systems as efficiently and effectively as possible. One option growing in popularity is outsourcing prison management. In Texas, Tennessee and also here in Michigan, private firms have lowered the cost of running corrections systems. The idea could be further explored in Michigan, since taxpayers, state officials, and prisoners themselves could derive tremendous benefits.

Although the state of Michigan has not engaged in privatization on a large enough scale to produce the kinds of savings potentially available, it has experimented with the idea with good results. In 1999, the state contracted with a private firm, Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, to build and operate a single correctional facility in Baldwin. Opened in 1999, the Michigan Youth Correctional Facility has space for 450 men under the age of 20. The DOC estimates that the facility saves between $6,975 and $19,125 per day based on comparison with state-run prisons. On a per-year basis, this comes to between $2.5 million and $6.9 million annually — for just one facility.

Such savings are not uncommon. A survey of 28 studies of prison privatization by the Reason Foundation, a Los Angeles-based research institute, found that virtually all private prisons save money — typically between 10 and 14 percent of the cost of government prisons. [9] Three recent studies done by Louisiana State University, the Arizona Department of Corrections, and the state of Florida found cost savings from 3.75 percent to 14 percent, with no decrease in the quality of services. [10] The Florida study found that private prison construction costs there were 24 percent lower than they would have been had the state built its own facilities. [11]

Cost savings is not the only reason units of government adopt privatization for building and/or operating correctional facilities. Privatization also:

  • Relieves overcrowding.

Governments can increase inmate housing capacity faster by contracting with the private sector. Private firms in Pennsylvania, for example, built a prison in two years less than it took the state to build a similar prison nearby — and for $38 million less — while saving the county in which it was built $1.5 million annually in lower debt costs. In Houston, a new Immigration and Naturalization Service detention facility was expected to cost $26,000 per bed and take 30 months to build, working through normal government construction procedures. A private firm did the job for $14,000 per bed in less than six months. [12]

  • Improves quality.

States can improve quality when they use contractors. A 2002 review of 18 prison quality studies by the Reason Foundation found that 16 conclude that privately run prisons performed at least as well as government-run prisons.

By some measures the private prisons do even better. The American Corrections Association (ACA) is a private, nonprofit group that operates as a private regulatory body — ensuring that the services of its members meet certain standards before they receive accreditation. In order to earn ACA accreditation, a prison must meet guidelines that include staff training, fiscal controls, food service, sanitation, and safety and emergency procedures. The Association maintains 19 unique manuals of standards, each of which applies to a different type of correctional facility. [13] While only 10 percent of America’s 48,000 government-run prison facilities are accredited by the ACA, 44 percent of privately run facilities are so accredited. [14]

The Harvard Law Review recently looked at studies of public and private prisons to determine whether the quality of prison services suffered when they were delivered privately. According to the author, ". . . [N]one of the more rigorous studies finds quality at private prisons lower than quality at public prisons on average, and most find private prisons outscoring public prisons on most quality indicators." [15]

  • More innovative.

Private firms can offer states more flexibility in planning and designing prisons and prison operations. Because they are subject to market competition, they must innovate as a matter of survival. For instance, a private prison administrator discovered that the Virginia Department of Corrections maintained expensive warehouses for food, out of fear that deliveries would not reach prisons. This long-standing custom first developed when food was delivered to prisons by pack mules. The system simply had no motive to change until a private firm was hired to save the state money. [16] In Florida, privately run prisons have introduced more advanced locking systems, a greater use of camera surveillance, and a host of other innovations. [17]

While Michigan has only experimented with prison privatization, other states have done far more and with great success. In New Mexico, for example, 44 percent of state and federal inmates are housed in facilities under private management. In Oregon the number is 43 percent. By comparison, only 0.9 percent of all Michigan inmates are incarcerated under a private management system. [18]

No state has privatized the management of its entire correctional system. However, one state, Tennessee, came close to being the first, but was thwarted by political pressure to abandon the move in 1998. Tennessee expected to save more than 22 percent of its corrections budget annually — or $100 million — by contracting with Corrections Corporation of America, a private, for-profit prison management business. [19] If the state of Michigan were to contract with such a vendor and shave just 15 percent, General Fund savings could exceed $250 million. Savings: $258,676,080. Granholm’s 2005 proposal increases the gross appropriation to $1,824,618,900.