Nebraska Lawmaker Wants to Put an End to the State Paying Private Prisons for Empty Cells

private-prisonsThe private prison system is quite possibly one of the worst ideas I’ve ever heard of.  Who in their right mind actually believes that prisons should be “for-profit”?

Just think about that for a moment.

How would a prison generate profits?  Well, they could understaff the prison.  Doesn’t that idea just make you feel all warm and fuzzy? Hundreds of potentially violent prisoners locked up inside of a prison that’s drastically understaffed.  Not only is that unsafe for society as a whole, but it’s even more dangerous for those who would still work inside the facility.  You don’t think some of these prisoners with ideas of escape or causing trouble might not recognize a prison with too few guards?

Or they can just do their best to keep their prisons full.  They can’t make people commit crimes, but don’t think for a second that these private corporations running these prisons can’t do their best to influence some judges into dishing out harsher punishments for lesser crimes.

Another way some have gone about helping fatten their profit margins is by having contracts with “lockup quotas.”  What that means is that if these private prisons aren’t filled or near capacity, then taxpayers pay for the empty beds.

Let me say that in another way.  These private prisons have contracts that dictate to whatever state they’re in that no matter how full their prison is, they’re going to get paid regardless.

Basically even if they don’t have an inmate in a cell, they’re being paid as if there were one.

Well, that’ll soon be done away with if Nebraska Democratic state senator Amanda McGill gets her way.  She’s proposing a bill that would make contracts such as these illegal.

My question is, how can anyone actually argue that this shouldn’t be illegal by default?  How can a company sign a contract that essentially says whether or not they provide the services for which they’re contractually obligated to provide, they’re going to be paid regardless?

Especially as it relates to the prison system.  Our goal as a society should be to have emptier prisons.

I know I’m not the only one who sees how bad of a policy this is.  If states are signing contracts with companies which require full prisons, wouldn’t that mean state legislators are going to pass laws which might help fill those prisons?

It kind of goes back to the marijuana argument.  The debate for many isn’t whether or not the substance is dangerous, but the fact that a lot of people make a lot of money because marijuana is illegal.

Well, these companies running these private prisons are making a lot of money by having full prisons.  You don’t think that kick-backs and other unethical behavior might lead to legislators doing their best to ensure that these prisons continue to make profits?

This legislation just seems like basic common sense, though it wouldn’t shock me if it never becomes law.

But this whole situation just highlights the bigger problem of a for-profit private prison system.  Because I don’t know about you, but it’s a little terrifying for me to think that the lives of millions of Americans might be forever ruined because our private prison system needed to boost revenue.

And how do you do that?  By locking more people up.

Just because we’re a country based on capitalism doesn’t mean everything should be for-profit.

Allen Clifton

Allen Clifton is a native Texan who now lives in the Austin area. He has a degree in Political Science from Sam Houston State University. Allen is a co-founder of Forward Progressives and creator of the popular Right Off A Cliff column and Facebook page. Be sure to follow Allen on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his channel on YouTube as well.


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  • Charles Vincent

    Well will wonders never cease…

    “The private prison system is quite possibly one of the worst ideas I’ve
    ever heard of.”
    This is probably one of a very finite number of things I will ever agree with Mr. Clifton on.

    “Who in their right mind actually believes that prisons
    should be “for-profit”?”

    Simple answer, anyone involved in making money off the for profit system.

    • Jim Bean

      I don’t know Chuck. The profit motive stimulates fiscally prudent administration of programs. Government funding of programs stimulates a focus on making sure you spend every dollar budgeted – and more if possible – even if you don’t need it, because if you don’t, you will be budgeted for less money the next year. Government funding always discourages fiscal responsibility. Its not their money, so who cares?

      • hdtex


      • Jim Bean

        What is your definition of a ‘troll’, pray tell?

      • Charles Vincent

        HE is correct in most government ventures the government over spends.

      • SophieCT

        Do you have data to prove this or just a lifetime of bias? There is a TON of data proving that privatized government services cost the taxpayers more, the only difference being that the people who run the businesses that win the contracts are wealthier and the people doing the actual contracted work are poorer.

      • Jim Bean

        A lifetime of experience actually. I worked in private industry for 45 years. Each year my employer(s) established and working budget and we spent the entire year trying to finish the year under budget. My wife still works in government. Each year, they too established a working budget for each year. The difference is, they spend all year doing whatever it takes to use up and that money and more if they can. The reason? Their budget next year will based on what they use this year. If they don’t use it all, they will get less the following year.

      • Guest

        And that behavior is different from private enterprise how?

      • SophieCT

        Yes, because they’re the government, they’re eeeeevil and they asked for more money than they needed. Unlike private enterprise management that never does that with their annual budgets.
        The point of this thread was that privatized services are not cheaper than government provided services and on top of that, they don’t provide the services as well.

      • Jim Bean

        Actually, the point of the thread is that some on the Left incorrectly THINK, or WANT to think, privatized services are not cheaper. From the US GOV National Institute of Justice Cost, Performance Studies of Prison Privatization by Gerry Gates, Ph.d. (copy/paste this into your browser to see the full report.

        “According to the Abt analysis, the Taft facility was cheaper to run, every year, than the three publicly operated facilities. In 2002, for example, Abt reports that the average cost of the three public facilities was 14.8 percent higher than Taft.

      • D

        Nonsense. My wife works for a for-profit government contractor who wastes money (of the company) and who does not do the work that the state used to do when they paid real wages for real work. The only people making bank are the managers out of state. The corporate boss is flown in to the west coast from Hawaii every weekend. Hundreds of thousands of dollars that could be used to help people find employment are being wasted by sending the contract to Kentucky. There is no reason to privatize government services just because you don’t use them.

  • D

    Should have thought of that when you decided to privatize. This is what you get for trying to cut costs, you end up increasing them. All you did was make a few executives wealthy. Suck it up, buttercup, you signed the contract.