California would have had legal marijuana a decade sooner except for lobbing by the union, they're a major force for mandatory minimum sentences and tougher sentencing in general.
This seems like a trivial easy-PR win for some legislators that does very little to meaningfully address the problems with criminal justice in the US. Private prisons are a tiny little piece of a much bigger problem and there's still a lot of real work to be done.
Law enforcement unions are one of the few American institutions with completely bipartisan protection. Democrats don't go after them because Democrats are pro-union. Republicans don't go after them because Republicans are pro-police. Furthermore, you really don't want to pick a fight with police unions. What happens if police officers and prison guards go on strike? It's against the law in many places, but if the police are on strike, who's going to enforce that? There is a very significant risk that you'd have to call up the National Guard just to maintain public order. And even then, how many National Guardsmen does California have? How many LEOs? And most of those National Guardsmen are not actually trained in law enforcement. In effect you would be declaring martial law. It's not worth it.
Perhaps your "democracy" needs more than 2 parties.
"What happens if police officers and prison guards go on strike?"
The American culture is very antagonistic. In democratic societies, which are less antagonistic, this would become a matter of new public consensus much sooner before they would go on actual strike (there are many forms of strike and some of them do not involve stopping all work, for example, work-to-rule).
I live in Europan country with https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tripartism, and that's one option how to make things less antagonistic. There is lot of negotiations going on before the strike happens, and it mostly gets averted.
The current dynamic is akin to children playing one feuding parent against the other in a broken overly-adversarial marriage. You need a minimum of about 4-5 independent voices in order to facilitate civil public discourse.
Has this been demonstrated through mathematical/statistical models?
LEOs hold a sacred role of trust in our society - they maintain the potential application of the use of lethal force. With that power must come the most severe of guardrails, to which unionization is completely antithetical. Our civilian control of the military is internationally lauded, but we lack full civil control of our own law enforcement.
I think the way to go about this is to break up the law enforcement departments into smaller scoped independent roles with enough potential redundancy to be able to institute reforms via divide and conquer. Remake law enforcement from the ground up in this way, and deny the new institutions public unionization by law.
If the existing police unions strike, they must be dealt with as severely as mutinous armed forces would be; they should be subject to a court marshal form of adjudication with the same penalties that a military officer would face for desertion and endangering public safety.
Start building new parallel law enforcement institutions now, prepare for how to maintain civil order in the face of a strike, then start dissolving the old institutions. It’d also probably be wise for the FBI to maintain a comprehensive database of federal, state and local LEOs in case some go underground and attempt to undermine these efforts through domestic terrorism.
I can understand for example limiting striking by law or similar ordnances to uphold order and democracy. Is this all the parent is talking about?
But isn't a union basically a private organisation formed by citizens by their own free will?
What does it mean for a political organization, eg a party, to go after something like that? I mean from liberal/freedom of the individual POV.
I'm most certainly missing something important here and me being european/nordic shows ;)
It’s also not purely a matter of private association. Often there are laws encouraging or mandating collective bargaining for certain public sector jobs. These laws are often what keeps unions in business, since those laws protect them and allow them to eg sign collective bargaining agreements that effectively require public employees to join the union (or at least pay dues to it) as a condition of keeping their jobs. It was the repeal of these laws that Gov. Walker faced political pushback for in 2011.
The unions and their membership have a financial conflict of interest when it comes to public public that impacts incarceration rate. Prison unions have, for example, lobbied extensively to keep various drugs criminalized in states where the public was going in another direction.
It's obviously a difficult subject with a lot of concerns to balance, but the posters here are just arguing that the problems of private prisons are not all unique to private prisons-- the employees of public prisons (and their orgs) have some of the same kinds of conflicts of interest.
In the former case, harsh laws are good for them, same as the private scenario. But in the latter case -- fewer prisoners on the same budget -- more permissive laws would be an unconditional win. I don't know which way it actually works, just spelling out an unstated assumption that's being made upthread.
A larger motivating factor - and this is pure speculation - might be more closely related to angering an institution with such a capacity for unchecked initiation of violence (ie, that ones person, home, or family may be in danger of direct violence).
> When New York police officers temporarily reduced their “proactive policing” efforts on low-level offenses, major-crime reports in the city actually fell, according to a study based on New York Police Department crime statistics.
> The scientists found that civilian complaints of major crimes dropped by about 3% to 6% during the slowdown.
There are a number of factors to take into account when giving credit to such studies:
- Is there enough observations to have statistically significant results? (i.e. do we have enough occurences of police strikes to really have meaningful results? can we have overwelmingly influencing factors not present in the studied samples: I guess it would likely highly depend on the city where the strike happens also)
- Did the sample properly allowed the isolation of the variable being studied against other influencing factors?
- What is the collinearity between the variables used for the regression? (i.e. if violence complaints are made on the spot, then less police means harder to fill complaints, it doesn't necessarily mean less violence)
"Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything" has a good introduction to the challenges of such studies, and discusses a bit the particular case of police.
You're right, I don't think either of these options is better than the other.
And yet such numbers are dropped all the time. I also do not see callouts for number drops being consistently applied. For example in political subreddits sees number drops without callouts when it supports the lean of the subreddit and number drops with callouts when it does not.
Criticism of science seems to be unequally applied, and given how important equal application of criticism is to science being reliable, it creates a reliability problem.
Galanwe said phry was "very malicious", which is actually and not just tenuously a personal attack. Do you plan to delete their comment as well? Interesting standards on HN.
Edit: I've tracked down the comment you're referring to and indeed, no moderator saw it. I've replied to it here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20964408. In the future, if there's a comment you're concerned about, you should either flag it or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you haven't checked specifically with us about a post, please don't draw conclusions about HN moderation—those are almost always non sequiturs. People usually jump to the idea that we secretly support the one side (where they didn't see us moderate) over the other side (where they did). That is reading patterns into randomness.
Edit: Also, could you please stop creating accounts for every few comments you post? We ban accounts that do that. This is in the site guidelines: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html. HN is a community. Users needn't use their real name, but do need some identity for others to relate to. Otherwise we may as well have no usernames and no community, and that would be a different kind of forum. https://hn.algolia.com/?query=by:dang%20community%20identity...
No, it's a general attack on anyone that cites horseshit.
It occurred to me that the result is not necessarily unexpected if it were due to under reporting (i.e. during the slowdown there was less opportunity to report major crime and therefore reports fell). The researchers discuss that in the paper. I don't have time to read the paper in detail and come to a conclusion one way or another, but I thought it might be of interest to people who might not otherwise click on an La Times link.
Answer the phone
Take the person’a claim seriously, encourage the person to formally complain
Actually write up the complaint
Actually file it
I’m really skeptical those things wouldn’t be altered by a slowdown, it wouldn’t be much of a slowdown, in my opinion, without altering these things.
Edit: I understand it might be in principle possible to control for a slowdown, if you had many many other slowdowns to use as data points.
There is a non-trivial risk of violent, even armed conflict if there really was a police strike and the National Guard was called in to restore order. That’s not something a state governor wants on their record.
edit: Do you have any articles to recommend that would shed some lights on this matter ?
Do you have some sources ? (I don't live in the US, but I find the idea that guards somehow lobby fascinating)
>...The CCPOA is deeply involved in a variety of political activities. Most spending is done through political action committees. Although its membership is relatively small, representing only about one tenth the membership of the California Teachers Association, CCPOA political activity routinely exceeds that of all other labor unions in California. The union spends heavily on influencing political campaigns, and on lobbying legislators and other government officials. CCPOA also hires public relations firms and political polling firms.
>Lobbying efforts and campaign contributions by the CCPOA have helped secure passage of numerous legislative bills favorable to union members, including bills that increase prison terms, member pay, and enforce current drug laws.
>...ROUGHLY HALF OF the money raised to oppose a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana in California is coming from police and prison guard groups, ...
And yet I see this constantly on almost every thread. What is it with HN and asking for sources on everything?
True, I could google for it but then I am on an hunt to discern the truths and the lies and to understand why someone lies or tells the truth to whom and how it is pertinent to the original request (and there's the bubble search, of course).
The thing is, I don't know - in that case - if it's obscure or not.
Plus, our comments aren't born in a vacuum. Parent likely has additional information or an outlook on the subject that I wouldn't find (or more likely find but likely dismiss because of a lack of context) in a 15 minutes google search.
Then, on the other hand, you actually have snipers around here who are quick to derail conversations by not participating, not giving information or sharing outlook and just shooting "Sources ?" and then never coming back to the thread.
You have to trust me on that one but I assure you I don't do that.
Now, asking for sources is most of time a given when someone makes extraordinary claims meant to shut an argument (eg: "X is bad 98% of time don't talk about X" when everyone was considering X safe from the get-go).
edit: I should have asked something like "Do you have an article to recommend that would shed some lights on this matter ?". The "Do you have sources ?" is a bit harsh and inquisitive, my bad.
edit (2): On the other hand, I clicked your link, without looking at the URL, thinking "ah cool, this person is telling me that in this case a simple google search will yield pertinent results. But all I got was a "fuck you, use google".
Ideally, citing your sources should be done without being asked.
And, when asked, people want to know which sources you have used, not the ones they can find for themselves. So even if you think it's common knowledge, we want to see the base of your thinking.
Do you have a source for why that would be ideal ?
While it seemed annoying at first, I quickly came to love the fact that this happens. I feel like this might be a natural tendency starting to be developed in the wake of fake news, and opinion-generating bot armies on the rise.
Better to ask for a source one time too many, than one time too little.
Imagine a layperson read a news article about a complex topic in your field and instantly discovered a trivial easy win.
What are the odds they’d be correct?
Could you please provide me some examples? I figure if California's prisons were 200% of capacity, there's no shortage of work for the prison guards anyway.
Much of the concept is that the prison's are at 200% capacity because of the perverse incentives for the state (prosecutors, police, judges) to fulfill the private contract minimums.
Mandatory minimums and the 3 strike rule are suspected to be related to private prisons contracts.
Then of course there could be plenty of hidden stuff like more prison crowds means some one selling food(I hear animals eat better food than inmates) to the prison likely makes more money, and hence better bribes/commissions in the chain of people involved.
Eventually it comes down to profit per person. And they'd like to make it up on scale.
I'm not sure how/why you figure that, or how it's at all relevant.
I'm not sure how/why you figure that because "over capacity" != "will build new prisons / hire new guards". I.e., it's not at all impossible for there to be prisons that are over-capacity and also a decline in the number of prison guard jobs.
It's not relevant because the entire point of unions is to counter-act the effect of supply/demand dynamics on labor (see: "there's always another scab"). Just because there's "no shortage of work for the prison guards" doesn't mean they will lobby against changes to laws that might one day create such a shortage.
I mean I get the initial point, some police unions are an especially vile proponents of an expansion into a police state, its just not really about working conditions. Its political lobbying. In Germany you can see it every time more competences for the police are discussed in parliament. You have some police unions giving legit feedback if someone bothers to ask them, how those competences are a bad idea and are not needed. And then you have speakers for other police union (with a catchy union name to seem more important) where you can see they have the right party membership and are looking for a career in politics. As a result you can see them in every news report that wants to bring across a certain message.
More members equal more funding.
More members equal more possibility of existing members to become senior.
The power of unions (for a certain sector) in a given society scales proportionally to number of people involved in them.
However, the power of private companies (certain sector) in a given society is proportional to revenue of that sector.
Since the power of unions in monetary terms can be bounded from above by total wages in the sector, we can see that this is always less than the revenue of the sector.
In other words, in capital intensive industries, unions have less relative power.
The point is, the "willingness of some industry to live" is the interest of more people than just employees of that industry. It's also all the people taking a cut one way or another, that is owners, rentiers and potentially all the people involved in providing assets for the industry.
I suspect the American culture of "being tough on crime" isn't really about prison-employee unions, but has historical roots in the colonization of the American frontier.
...except when you can both be a member of a union and also exercise your vote.
I wasn't aware that in the USA joining a public sector union meant giving up your right to vote ;-)
I think it seems counter-intuitive to you but you cannot articulate why. I was also surprised when I realized it.
Or think about it this way: All citizens in democratic society are free to enter any number of associations that advocate for their interests. For example, unions. But membership in these associations doesn't "add up" to more power, in particular, it doesn't affect the "one person, one vote" principle of democratic elections.
> your vote has always larger weight in society than your union membership.
Yes, but the next step in your logical deduction is flawed because union membership does not necessarily dilute the power of your vote to signal other preferences (at least in countries with secret ballots and no proxy voting).
You're comparing these two things as if there's some sort of trade-off or mutual exclusivity. There isn't, especially in countries where politics is dominated by two parties such as the USA.
Here's how those mechanics tend to play out in the USA. A union voter leverages their union membership to make kings in the primaries. Then, after winnowing the field to a list of candidates who exclusively support their union's major priorities, union members are free to use their vote to exercise preference on other issues. That's not hypothetical -- it's exactly what happens in most US states with strong public sector LEO unions.
> But membership in these associations doesn't "add up" to more power
But this is obviously false when broadened to include all associations.
Politics in literally every modern democracy is dominated by associations called political parties. That's not an accident, and it's not like that status quo happened without opposition. A lot of politicians in the history of democracy have attempted to limit the role of associations in democratic processes, and they mostly failed.
I don't really understand the argument you're making. Maybe your logical deductions are bulletproof, but in that case, there must be something wrong with your premises. Because hundreds of years of extraordinarily compelling empirical evidence contradict your final conclusion.
Large associations of voters really do have more power than the sum of their votes. Maybe not "theoretically", but certainly "actually" and "empirically".
If the government takes more input from associations than from voting, I think it's a reasonable conclusion. (See also my comment about tripartism above.)
But what seems to me closer to the truth is that people simply heavily underestimate the power of their vote.
Parties are still highly effective at consolidating power in countries with many parties.
And I don’t remember prison guard unions being the ones principally pushing for 3 strike laws. Most of those went through when it was politically advantageous to be backing them, unlike now.
This is such a bizarre and twisted sentence to hear without a hint of irony. It's like dream/nightmare logic except in real life. In 100 years private prisons are going to be a hideous stain on our history and this is such a huge step in the right direction that it really makes me proud to be living in California and supporting the state with my tax dollars.
But if it is a serious violent crime, it should still be prison. Comfortable like in Europe or better, but preventing convicted from doing harm to others.
It should not be a punishment. It should be just an isolation. Separation of bad people from good people.
Otherwise there are a tonne of options from before prison became the norm. Community service, restitution, fines, public shaming, exile, corporal punishment, capital punishment. Some more acceptable today than others.
> I think things like prison, corporal punishment, exile, etc., are good deterrents but they're horrible at reintegration
An example would be the prison phones / video visitation industry. It's absolutely abhorrent what's going on there (removing in-person visits, replacing them with stupidly expensive phone calls that prisoners can hardly afford).. and yet public prisons / jails are using their services just the same. 
 - https://worthrises.org/picreport2019
 - https://www.prisonpolicy.org/phones/state_of_phone_justice.h...
Just look at how expensive those phone calls are :(
That 15 minute maximum includes a mandatory waste of 38 seconds of a recorded message telling the receiver that the person on the other end of the line is in federal prison. Additionally you waste approximately 1 minute during the call when a woman's voice reminds you all that the call was placed from federal prison. That's just the time the voice is talking.. it doesn't account for the fact it is seemingly random and derails any train of thought. All in all you waste over 1.5 minutes of the call...
Outside of Unicor you're screwed if you expect to make more than 20 dollars a month.
Oh and the email system ha ha ha haaaa you pay by the MINUTE to email. Imagine how many people can't type well at all? I spent so much time typing up messages for people because they couldn't type well. It's just pretty sad. Huge rip off for every one in a vulnerable position.
Federal prison was progressive in many ways compared to the states.
Truth be told, if you have some minimum level of funds available and you are within regular travel distance of visitors the federal system is not bad at a camp or a low.
The existence of a straight-to-camp prisoner is a little silly to me. Camps should really only be a stepping stone down from higher security level on your way to release. The feds could save a lot of money by sending people with 18-36 month sentences to a modified RDAP program while living at a halfway house or home confinement. I fully believe every one in the federal system should be participating in an RDAP-type program to evaluate their criminal thinking and have better availability to skills training. Prison and Oren Cass' book "The Once and Future Worker" really influenced my thinking on what should be done to help.
Internet access is non-existent without a cell phone. The higher up in security level you go the harder it is to get a cell phone. Camps at Fort Dix, Petersburg, Morgantown, etc. without a fence.. they're readily available for anywhere from 100-300 USD. A low that has an attached camp a little harder and more expensive. A low with a fence you're looking at maybe 1,000+ USD. Beyond that good luck. These are the shitty prepaid 30 dollar Android phones. Get caught with a cell phone you'll lose up to 200 days of good time and get an automatic shipment (through the horrible OKC facility...) to the next security level. Camp -> Low -> Medium -> High.
General rule at a camp is expect to pay 4x the street price for anything you want. Multiplier gets to be more like 5x-7x if it's something bulky and unusual.
This also ignores known stories such as an example where a judge had a stake in a private prison company (or was bribed outright?) And as a result was sentencing school kids to prison for things which probably needed detention at worst. And this went on for a decade.
The prison system in the US is not good to begin with. Largely because the citizens look at prison as retribution rather than rehabilitation. But the private nature only adds to and exacerbates issues.
FWIW, the judges you mention are probably the two in the Kids for cash scandal . They're currently serving sentences ranging from 17 to 28 years. Good riddance.
Thank God they opened their mouths, pissed off the judge overseeing their plea agreement who then yanked it, and got sentenced to about 3 times the jail time they would have had otherwise.
Offering cheap phone calls isn't exactly rocket science.
We see this time and time again. There really needs to be a better protocol for this. It takes so much time and effort to make these laws, yet they can be undone in a heartbeat. It's an inherently flawed system.
The whole problem is that these were not laws. The FCC does not make laws. If it had been done through Congress, it would have been a more lasting change. But anything one president can unilaterally do, the next can unilaterally undo.
Which would just make them subject to switching when the legislative majority changed, rather than actually fundamentally changing the situation.
But I'm not sure either is really a problem: otherwise, bad laws would be impervious to change, too. If you want good laws, you have to keep electing good government.
I think it makes more sense to focus on specific aspects of the criminal justice system rather than simply the private/public distinction. There should be standards for the pay and training of prison staff, security of inmates, quality of food and nutrition, medical care, etc.. It might be true that private prisons skimp on these things more than public prisons, but the standards are what is important.
Of course, this may very well mean that the best way to implement and enforce these standards is to have as much "public" (state) direction as possible in the development and operation of prisons, and I'm not at all against that if it is in fact the best implementation.
So I see this as cutting off a potential source of greater problems down the line.
But you're 100% right, there are already massive incentive systems in place that we need to overcome to achieve real change.
Frankly, I think a great first step would be eliminating prison guard unions or at least putting pressure on them (e.g. other unions refusing to recognize them).
10% of 2.2 million is 220,000, and that is 220,000 more people than deserve to be a human sacrifice to a corporation and its bottom line.
While this is true, that's still 133,000 people. An attempt to make the system more ethical for over 100,000 people makes a significant difference.
I'd wager $1 in their pockets costs society easily 10X that.
[EDIT] Surprise surprise, when Canada experimented with private prisons, they found measurably better outcomes in public prisons  and took the private prisons back over.
The Price of Prison Guard Unions https://capitalresearch.org/article/the-price-of-prison-guar...
PORAC's contribution to California's prison crisis http://www.cjcj.org/news/5423
If anyone's interested in actually learning about the causes of mass incarceration, I'd strongly recommend John Pfaff's _Locked In_: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01L6SLKK8/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?...
a) It's not the war on drugs.
b) It's not private prisons.
c) It's not sentencing laws.
You could get rid of all of those and America would still lead the "free" world in incarceration.
Pfaff is convinced that aggressive prosecution is the biggest cause of over-incarceration. His argument here is compelling. He notes that while incarceration rates began to climb in the 1980s as a response to rising crime, those trend lines continued through the Nineties, even though crime was steadily falling. Why did that happen? Examining all the relevant variables (crime reports, arrests, charges filed, and convictions), Pfaff found himself looking squarely at the prosecutor’s office. As less crime was reported, arrests dropped proportionately, and among those who were charged with a crime, conviction rates held steady. But prisons continued to fill, because prosecutors were filing felony charges against ever-growing percentages of their dwindling arrestees.
PS. Don't downvote me if you don't know economics morons.
It is a feature of our system that is only accelerated by income inequality and labor price suppression.
The motivations are better. No one is saying it's going to solve world hunger, but it's a good first step.
The government won't lobby itself; the prison guards unions may, however.
Next you need to find good people that strongly want to accomplish the organization's goals. And who are smart enough to actually do that.
And you need to make sure those leaders have adequate funding and time to make the necessary changes. As well as having a legal system that is at least half-way working correctly.
Outlawing private prisons is probably a good step, but it's neither necessary nor sufficient to eliminate the vested interest in mass incarceration.
Thing is, private prisons are 10% of prisons. Which means public prisons are 90% of prisons, and so public-sector prison guards are at least 90% of prison guards (maybe 100% if they get the state to require collective bargaining in private prisons). That means a majority of the special interests are there either way. There is a conflict of interest with private prisons, but private prison owners are a small and not-very-powerful special interest compared to others.
Like, let’s talk marijuana legalization. I’m pretty sure fast food franchise owners are already a bigger special interest than private prison operators. They probably would be even if 100% of prisons were privatized.
On the other hand, the prison guard union has some real power. If they go on strike, you have to call up the National Guard and panic to get the prisons in working order before the prisoners start rioting and/or starving to death. If a private prison owner pulled that shit, it’s just one private prison owner, and regardless, they’re ruined for life. It only even becomes a remotely comparable risk if there was a single private prison monopoly across the whole state, whereas public prisons already have a prison guard monopoly in the form of the union.
That there are things we also need to fix with public prisons is an orthogonal issue. private prisons are clearly a problem. The idea of commercializing the locking up of human beings is horrifying from a moral perspective.
Although the root fault is that a "guilty" plea costs the court less resources than a "not guilty" plea. If you wanted to solve this properly, you'd require that even if the defendant pleads guilty, there still has to be the full process of jury selection, presenting evidence and arguments (even if the defence's argument is "yeah, I did it") and deliberation (which, by design, gives twelve opportunities for someone to say "what the hell are we doing; this is clearly bunk" without that person being under threat of twenty-five-to-life for contempt of cop).
Edit: oh right, and you also need to make offering plea bargains (outside of state's-evidence cases) a twenty-five-to-life felony for the prosecutor.
"a major shift in prosecutor behavior that occurred in the mid-1990s, when prosecutors began bringing felony charges against arrestees about twice as often as they had before"
For all of its faults, I can't agree with you that the public sector is just as bad as the private sector.
Private prisons aren't always worse: Florida study showing lower recividism in private prisons https://www.researchgate.net/publication/249718665_A_Compara...
When you see "Private Prisons Are The Worst!!!" check the studies to see if the groups are comparable; I know someone in the industry years ago and when they opened the first private prison in the state they were sent the worst offenders in order to try and break them, yet they ended up performing better than average for the state.
Prison lobbying comes from both.
I remember the news of Ontario shutting down their privatized project and taking it over. But I also remember the Harper conservative government later suggesting private prisons could again be in Canada's future.
I know there's lobbying going on (and probably more, now, as some of the US state gravy trains dry up) but does anyone know the state or politics of privatizing prisons in Canada?
I did not notice such a thing. What do you think constitutes a "relentless march right", that the Conservative party is engaged in?
I can’t imagine for instance a Joe Clark conservative jumping at these ideas but maybe it was always like that?
The one that really got to me was the F-35 purchase order, which they did not even try to explain to the public.
I hope the PPC can bring some competition and vigour back to our parliament, and get them actually talking about issues, and talking to their own constituents rather than to the fourth wall.
I don't agree with all of their framing, and the English is not native, but their platform documents actually name the laws and procedures that correspond to their legislative priorities, in plain language, and that gives me the warm fuzzies.
Two parties rounds down to one.
The point of this is that by the time they hit their late teens and start entering the prison system, they don't see it as prison but simply a temporary time out from 'the life.' And when they get out, their time in lock up is something that's worn as a badge of honor showing how 'hard' they are. And of course since this culture starts to take a grip quite early, individuals that fall into this trap are generally going to be extremely uneducated. You're looking at adults with elementary or middle school level educations, and generally who have a very strong aversion to education in general.
And so how do you rehabilitate against this? When these guys get out of lockup their options are returning to the life where they're going to met with adulation and respect. Or they can try to go get a minimum wage job bagging groceries or asking if you'd like fries with that. Even look at things such as all the dead rappers. Many of these guys had millions of dollars and could have just retired into self indulgent hedonism on a beach somewhere if they wanted. But even those millions of dollars can't take them away from 'the life', until it eventually takes their life.
I'd predict here that we're going to be able to gradually see Sweden start to migrate towards a punitive based prison system as well. Before they had a negligible crime culture, but now they've entered an era where they're left engaging in hand grenade amenesties.  It's that sort of environment where rehabilitation gradually gives way to punitive responses.
 - https://www.thelocal.se/20181015/give-up-your-hand-grenades-...
Obviously this is not a uniquely US issue another countries are expanding their use.
Also, many politicians seem to like appearing to be tough on crime, and their constituents like that.
I'm not sure that any actually do that. The ones I've seen turned out to be misunderstandings of the contract. The contracts were of the form that the private prison would be paid a base amount of $B to house up to C prisoners, plus an additional amount of $V per prisoner for each prisoner over C. C is typically something like 90 or 95% of the maximum capacity of the prison.
The contract actually makes more profit for the private prison if it has fewer prisoners, with the total profit going down for each additional prisoner up to C. Whether profit goes up or down for additional prisoners beyond that depends on whether $V is less than or greater than $B/C. If it is greater, than profit will go up as the last 5 or 10% of the capacity is used, but it will still be lower than the profit when the prison was at around 80 to 85%.
From the state's point of view the total cost is $B to house anywhere from 0 to C prisoners, and $B + (n-C) $V if the number of prisoners, n, is > C. From the state's point of view, $B is essentially a sunk cost.
This does provide some incentive to politicians to keep the private prisons occupied up to at least C prisoners, because if they have n < C prisoners, the per prisoner cost to the state is $B/n. If that is too high, the opponents are going to say the politician is spending too much on prisons. Increasing n lowers $B/n, so the politician might be tempted (and it also makes them look tough on crime). That's probably easier for the politician that trying to explain to voters that the total is $B regardless of many or few prisoners are there, and so per prisoner cost is not really what you should be looking at.
Also, note that this kind of incentive goes the same way with public prisons. A public prison also has a bunch of fixes costs, and so if you look at cost per prisoner you are going to see a lower cost per prisoner with higher occupancy because of those fixed costs.
Ruth Wilson [2,3] has worked for years analyzing and working to end the expansion and privatization of California's prisons, through both academic and grass roots efforts . Her "Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California"  book is both accessible and rigorous, I highly recommend it. I am a bit shocked that their and foundational work were not mentioned in the piece.
There's a discussion between Davis and Wilson here  where they surface the mass incarceration/private prison issue, and detail the pathology of California's prison system.
The whole premise of private, for-profit, prisons has always seemed deeply troubling to me. The focus of a healthy prison system should be to rehabilitate people and help them turn their lives around so that they contribute positively to society. That can take years of hard work by the individual, and require assistance from professionals (therapists, teachers, ...).
A for-profit company by definition seeks to maximize profits. Expensive rehabilitation is therefore immediately off the table, or given at the minimum allowable level. That is just not in the best interest of neither the individuals in the prison system, nor the rest of society.
The operative word you used is should. You hold the view that the purpose of justice is rehabilitation, which is one theory of justice. Other popular views are deterrence and retribution.
From what I've observed about the United States, preferences for these competing theories of justice tend to fall along well-trodden political lines. That's why it can be so hard to make the legislative changes that California has just made.
Imprisonment is and should be a deterrent punishment - it is not a support group.
One can both be in favor of abolishing for-profit prisons and also in favor of severe deterrent sentences for law-breakers. Profiteering private corporations naturally seek to maximise the number of prisoners in their facilities, because they are paid per inmate - so they have every incentive to ensure future "custom". This motive naturally conflicts with deterrent imprisonment - the whole idea is to forcibly prevent criminals from breaking the law again.
And frankly if I had to choose between a reformed inmate who won't do it again but wasn't punished with cruelty and a hardened inmate who thinks he owes nothing to society I will always go for the former out of pure egoism.
It takes a certain transactional mindset to believe that harsher punishment result in less crime or that the suffering of the criminal will make up for the crimes commited. The lack of effectiveness for punishment to prevent future crimes is a well researched topic.
Unless you kill them, permanently incarcerate them, or lobotomize them, this is impossible.
The support group's intent is to help prevent re-offending after they are released.
I do believe it to be a universal truth that a reformist approach is superior. Treating it as opposed solution is certainly short sighted.
Exactly. This is your belief, and clearly not everyone believes it.
It sure could be both at the same time. Many people believe that too. It could also only be one or the other. Lots think those ways. There is no universally accepted truth here, and pretending like there is is not fruitful.
While I agree with your assessment of private prisons, I think we've begun to use the legal sure and imprisonment for things it wasn't intended for, such as minor vice crimes, based on flawed broken window thinking and making police terrified of the communities that they serve.
This is an opinion, not a fact. And you don't even back up your opinion with any data to support it.
Crime rates in the U.S. vs other developed countries, where rehabilitation is the focus, suggests rehabilitation is a much more efficient solution. See for example the crime rates in the Nordic countries.
Besides, most of these sorts of private/public relationships are unlike other true markets anyway with very little competition and only one customer to appease. We end up with a system with even more opaque responsibility/liability chains and encourage crony business deals.
Without any discernible benefit for the private nature and creating negative incentives that encourage more violence by correlating the success of an industry on the greater imprisonment of people, I can’t see any net-benefit for them to exist.
I tend to be a fan of markets in a practical sense but I wish we had clearer distinctions between these public/private operations that are spun as being more “efficient”. Plus a ton of people use these failures of public/private organizations to disparage markets. So it’s not doing anyone any favours to support these half baked pseudo market arrangements, even if you are pro market. In most situations we need purely public or market solutions. I’ve seen few examples of mixing the two that left us better off (the US health insurance ‘market’ is the shining example).
 as opposed to the more fringe absolutist anarcho-capitalist stuff ala Mises which does push for private everything
Ideology often gets in the way of providing the best solution to the greatest amount of people. I personally don't see much value in keeping a broken half-market like health insurance putting along in the name of "free markets". That just makes people blame markets for the failures of the public/private arrangements, which hurts them in other areas where it does make sense, where markets should be the default.
Others like private prisons and private military contractors makes the public lose trust in public institutions. Having a trustworthy justice and government system is critical for all markets to succeed.
Additionally a harder public/private distinction will put greater weight in these decisions and more responsibility. It's very easy for a politician to grab the half-measure public/private mix while pretending to appease both sides.
FWIW, one should also consider that in a Libertarian system FAR fewer people would be in jail in the first place - perhaps as few as none, since Libertarian ideology is not big on forced imprisonment in the first place. The typical Libertarian view of justice is rooted more in the idea of restitution for damages caused (where applicable) than "punishment".
On the right you've got some varieties of anarcho-capitalism that support systems of polycentric law that emerge from markets for law enforcement and criminal justice. On the left you've got anarchist movements like anarcho-syndicalism which propose a decentralized or federated system of social institutions that would be determined by direct action and direct democracy.
I think libertarians would benefit from creating a clearer spectrum within their own community between the more practical (and popular) small government/minarchist side and the more extreme anarcho-capitalist privatize everything group. Too often they seem to be happy having these lines blurred. Plus I don’t think there is any contradictions or significant compromises in doing so. If anything pushing for pipe dream imaginary economic systems or half solution public/private stop gaps isn’t helping anyone.
I also made no claims regarding the viability or merits of any of the viewpoints I was describing. That's not a conversation I'm interested in having in this context.
Compare with this statement: "A well-run private prison system would be given financial rewards based on recidivism rates and internal violence, and could do so at less cost than state-run prisons". I suspect your response will probably be along the lines of "that's nice dear, but that's not the system we actually ended up with".
The alternative to privately-run prisons that actually exists in CA is not the healthy prison system that you have described, but is the state-run prison system: a revolving door into criminal training centres, with all the abuses you could expect from a system in which certain sets of people have near-arbitrary power over other sets of people.
> A for-profit company by definition seeks to maximize profits.
Yep, people who make money from a thing have an incentive for that thing to continue happening. Now, I challenge you to take a less narrow view of "profit", one that would include (say) a secure job that pays a good wage and comes with a cushy pension (and power over others for those that relish that sort of thing), and apply your reasoning to the state prison system.
Lets not be against efficiency for the sake of political orthodoxy.
There's no reason a for-profit company wouldn't be able to provide a high quality service here if the customer actually insisted on (and paid for) such.
I don't see a way where the incentives to cut corners vs the cost and effort of monitoring to deny the effects those incentives would actually work out.
Competitive capitalism is good at being efficient. It is NOT good at avoiding examples of negative results. Even if we say "here's the desirable target" and enforce it, the incentives will be that a large number of the participants will go below that desire in their efforts to maximize profits.
If we want them to be exceeding the targets for things like safety, recidivism, and humane treatment, we can't set incentives that are "profit = how little can you do", even WITH a minimum required.
When in fact, research points to private prisons being better at dropping incarceration rates through the programs offered at them. Therefore increasing ones chance at correct rehabilitation.
Besides that, it's inarguable that for-profit entities need profit to exist. You could claim that some for-profit prisons have lower recidivism but a non-profit entity will, on average, have more incentive to help inmates than one who's lifeblood comes from profits.
I don't think it's valid to draw concrete conclusions about the current crisis from the study you linked. There are far more variables at play than were studied in the paper, and those variables - such as racism, increasing societal inequality, etc - matter.
Also, reasons cited in that paper for the reduced recidivism are to do with the programs offered by the private prison. Are private prisons in all states / California allowed or incentived to offer similar programs? Do they choose not to?
These things affect the statistics, and drawing strong conclusions from that paper about private prisons in California today may lead you to invalid conclusions.
- Convicts could choose whether to be sent to a public or private prison.
- Private prisons had financial incentives for post-incarceration behavior. Eg: If their prisoner recidivism rate after 3 years was 10% lower than the average public prison, they would get a 20% bonus.
Those changes would create enough competition and align incentives such that we could see some real innovation in the criminal justice system. Sadly, I don't think these sorts of experiments will ever be tried. If someone ever proposes such a system, they'll be branded a supporter of "private prisons".
That said, I think this is still pretty fraught.
Incentives are just rules enforced with a carrot instead of a stick; we're just as likely to come up with bad incentives as we are to develop ineffective regulations and write loophole-ridden or misapplied laws. At sufficient scale, money tends to inspire a troublesome kind of creativity.
If the private prisons have sufficient profit motive and the problems they face prove tractable for data and bespoke or ML solutions, they'll analyze likely convicts as thoroughly as possible and do what they can to skim the most-profitable convicts off the top of the pool and leave public prisons with whatever is left. Maybe they'll just directly pay the prisoner or their family. Maybe they'll have a miserable as-bad-as-regulations-allow experience for uninvited plebians and a special experience to offer prisoners they want.
Will a certain incentive lead them to bribe judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, or witnesses to get (or avoid) prisoners? Would they do the same to keep a former inmate from being convicted again within 3 years of release?
And then some donation-funded corner of the think-tank ecosystem will endlessly torture the data to "prove" private prisons get better outcomes than public ones and shop boilerplate legislation to restrict public and promote private prisons.
And once the prisoners are within their walls, they'll be sucking up all of the data they can to hone their prediction of whether they'll reoffend when they get out. Will they use it nobly to target support, or to ensure the whoever the algorithms pick as bad apples end up in constant manufactured trouble?
If you applied this same level of scrutiny to the existing prison system, I'm sure you could come up with far worse outcomes using far less speculation. For example: What's to stop state prison guards from torturing inmates? Answer: Nothing, because they have qualified immunity.
If you read more into the cash for kids scandal, you'll see it was the tip of the iceberg. The level of nepotism in Luzerne county was absurd and the state did nothing to fix it. There were judges abusing their positions, using staff for personal errands, showing blatant bias against certain attorneys, fixing cases, etc. By the time the FBI was done, around a half dozen judges in the county were convicted of various offenses.
My takeaway from the whole thing was that judges have too much power and too little oversight. They're the one relic of the royalty/nobility system that we kept after the American revolution.
Some of that will be corrupt.
It's not that I don't think incentives can play a role; I just wanted to emphasize how incentives, profit, and creativity can go awry.
I assume you didn't intend this in a sinister way, but exercise caution when speaking of experimenting with prisoners. Even with good intentions, remember that these people have limited choices, and will probably lack the ability to withdraw consent (assuming it was given in the first place).
Also, I think the point about lobbying proves too much. If lobbying is so much cheaper and more reliable than innovation, why don't all companies lobby instead of innovating? Apple has billions of dollars sitting around. Why don't they lobby to make the iPhone the sole phone used by federal employees? Heck, why don't they lobby to get rid of the new import tariffs affecting their products? I don't think companies leave $20 bills on the sidewalk, so lobbying must not be as effective as people like to believe.
I agree that lobbying is bad, but my objection to it is that the government is allowed to pass laws that coerce people in such ways, not that some companies take advantage of that power. Basically: hate the game, not the player.
Government procurement is a very different beast than most people would be used too. Imagine an organization tasked to deliver the world, but while spending the absolute minimum, and without showing anything that could remotely resemble favoritism in the process.
That's Government. The supplier must be reliable, yet everyone should have an equal footing from which to have a chance to grab a contract.
It has to be cheap, yet must satisfy every requirement necessary to fulfill the procurement's intended purpose.
There must an always also be at least the appearance of propriety in all transactions, or losing bidders have every incentive to challenge the integrity of the decision.
Given the significant hurdles represented by having to jump through all the hoops in winning a Government supply contract, it simply makes more sense to focus mercantile efforts elsewhere where returns can be made with far less risk.
Prisons on the other hand, run into the worst of both worlds. Private prisons don't make money without convicts. So they might lobby for increased mandatory incarceration as a punishment for violation of new laws. You also have operations where prisoners are exploited as slave labor (which is explicitly allowed by the Constitution). Which if you really sit and think about it, makes the threat of increased incarceration as a result of profit-motive for the private prison industry that much more dangerous, as by definition, you are delegating people to a more abusable status in the eyes of the law.
Hard-on-crime stances notwithstanding (I'm not taking sides, just pointing it out), one really needs to take into account on what spending on prisons really says about our society.
Begone yee incarceree!
Ye has't offended in the eyes of Man and God, and to the Pit do we consign'st thee til through suffering that debt is repaid!
Your offense has brought you here, being due to the threat to civil society your reckless and thoughtless behavior represents. Through the insecurity you suffer through here, it is our hope that you will come to understand the fragility of the civic construct, and come to see the error of your ways.
Vs. Yet still:
Clearly, our society has failed to incorporate/integrate you in a safe or constructive way. Here you must remain for a period until such time as it is deemed necessary to recompensense for the crime you have committed, or until it can be observed beyond a reasonable doubt that you no longer represent a threat to the civil life outside these walls.
A prison by it's nature does not function as anything else than a container or isolator of men and their proclivities. To create a profit making enterprise around that under the guise of "innovation shall make this system better" is foolhardy, seeing as the law, and punishments for breaking it often preclude any way to operate a prison or treat the offender in a "innovative" way.
The price of a man's years is set by the people already, that is. No private prison can innovate on that except by changing or altering the suffering they experience therein contained from the rest of society. Their Wardens' alone reaping the benefit of the custody of society's delinquents.
Furthermore, even the vaunted Market can be severely damaged by the "free labor" potential generated by prison inmates.
I just see far too much potential for negatives and far too few possibilities through which one could wave a magic wand and both dispel the wickedness of the alleged offenders heart (if it actually exists), and also extracting something resembling justice for the victims should it be appropriate.
Then the best strategy would be to make sure that the prisoners die as soon as possible.
But let's assume that the private prisons could somehow keep getting away with murder. If anyone ever looked at the stats and saw that people released from private prisons had much shorter life expectancy, then convicts would choose state prisons. Then the private prison's revenue dries up and they go out of business.
No, they would not, because there is huge information asmyettry here and, and generally convicts have lost access to the sorts of publications with this info.
By and large, I would expect inmates to choose the closest prison to their family, regardless of quality metrics. What good does it do to know that some prison 2000 miles away has a really good meal program?
Considering most inmates do not have access to the internet, do you expect the state to publish these stats in good faith? Inmates to trust them? Or do they just subscribe to print editions of The New York Times?
I guess I'm not sure if you're speaking in hypothetical or talking about inmates today. As the article is on California I'm assuming we're both discussing USA.
In the meantime ..say.. for about 10 years they make great money.
The recidivism metric would probably cause private prisons to try to avoid or eject worst prisoners, so you'd end up with a 2-tier system, where private prisons are hotels for "nice" people, and public prisons are a hell-hole for the rest.
Or maybe some prisons would run training on how not to get caught.
Yes, so you'd have to run the metric based on who was initially assigned to the prison. "Oh, John was assigned to your prison, but one look at his record and you decided to expel him? Well, you're still responsible for his recidivism, because you chose to not serve him. Oh, Jack was assigned to state prison, and you tried to encourage him? Well, you're not responsible for his recidivism, because you selected him."
But yeah, I agree in general that the thing about metrics is that they can be gamed.
You could let the prisoners freely switch to public while they're locked up.
The main issue I have with this system is that the "consumers" making the choices (the prisoners) of product aren't paying for the cost. So incentives aren't really aligned.
I bet if you just paid the felons the same amount they cost to incarcerate, relocated them away from their peer group, and forbid contact, a lot of them wouldn't re-offend, like, ever. It's down to basically a combination of poverty and peer pressure (as in "just when I thought I got out, they pull me back in") most of the time.
This is sort of how exile worked in Russia before the revolution: nonviolent offenders were sent to Siberia and simply lived there. No hard labor or anything, no incarceration per se, but you couldn't leave, and all your correspondence was subject to review and censorship.
You could get a bonus for not getting "return" prisoners - but it'd have to be better than gaining life sentences (though in general, harder to compete in three strike legislations where you'd be incentivesed to allow prisoners to commit crimes in order to trigger three strikes).
Perhaps there's a way to pay for recovery - but if your business depends on there being prisoners, it's hard to see how you could motivate anything but an increase in prisoner population.
Certainly an end to prisoners would mean bankruptcy?
[ed: you might have a goal of lowering crime, and by extention prisoner population. A private prison, paid to house prisoners, would be commercially committed to the opposite; increasing the prison population.]
You we trying to optimise out the 'inefficient' government, by saddling it with much effort designing incentives and making sure they are not abused. You might as well run prisons yourself - publically.
Further, this hypothetical system is ripe for exploitation. Aside from the potential exploits others have raised, have you considered the parallels to other industries such as defense contractors? Your idea creates an incentive and profit motive for crime. It’s the type of thinking that could literally result in corporations creating artificial mass shooters in pursuit of all the easy money that could be made. Sorry, but I think this is an extremely bad take and I actually worry about a dystopian future where this takes place. Pull on this thread at your own peril.
What I mean is nobody really cares if prisons buy commercial toilet paper, for example. (As opposed to a hypothetical government toilet paper.) Nobody cares if the military uses the private industry for procurement of computers or whatever. We don't feel the government should be creating its own version of all private industry products.
But when the prison itself is private - and likewise when defense contractors themselves are developing, shopping around, and selling new weapons only to the military, that the military didn't ask for - then suddenly there is a new player in the budgeting process.
Ideally few or no people are committing crimes. If the prisons have excess capacity, free beds - good! But if it's a private prison, how can they fill those beds? Well, by working to imprison more people.
This is the incentive structure that people don't like about private prison.
In the United States it's de facto "illegal" to walk around while being black: there is a high chance you will eventually be jailed on non-existent charges. (And accept a plea bargain, for example, rather than risk a really long term.) I'm a white guy. If I had lived the exact, exact same life, done every single action exactly the same (and this is true of other people reading Hacker News) I likely could have been jailed for no reason at all, just for walking around while being black. That's a fact. I probably would accept the plea bargain I'm offered, too, and resolve to work for change later. What am I going to do? Tell the judge and prosecutor (who often is scored based on how often he gets a conviction/plea) that he and the system are racist? How well will that go over? Will it get me my freedom? Or will it get a vindictive term from the judge. I'd rather just sit in prison for a few months and then avoid the cops better next time, I think I would decide. (Rather than risk a 20 year prison sentence, again, totally innocent of anything. A few months' plea - which my counsel would probably advise I take - is nothing compared to that.)
So why are innocent black people jailed? Well, to fill prison beds, apparently. That is one of the reasons that people don't like private prisons.
We don't want anybody to be "selling" prison, so we don't want prison to be a private enterprise. It's quite straightforward and is something most people understand very easily.
Utter nonsense. Black people are jailed for being black in America because American police are racist and American legislators are racist and American media are racist and American prosecutors are racist and American judges are racist. And then, because of this, black people in America have learnt that police, legislators, media, prosecutors and judges are best avoided.
If private prison operators have an incentive to get more people to serve more time, then they're not going to pick black people because they're just smart business people and black people represent an untapped growth market. If they've actually done anything to encourage oversentencing, they only reason they picked black people is because them and everyone around them are racists.
EVERY SINGLE SYSTEM GETS GAMED. NO MATTER WHAT YOU MEASURE.
Every metric you could possible think of can be manipulated in ways you can't imagine. But give private companies the incentive and someone in them will figure it out.
IMO the only way to run things like prisons is to hire people that strongly care about the public good to run them. Hire people who want to run a good organization that accomplishes the organization's goals. Which for prisons should be rehabilitation and safety.
In contrast, you are putting forth a fully general counterargument to any incentive structure. But clearly financial incentives work in many cases. It's what sports teams use for their athletes and coaches. It's what businesses use for their leadership teams. When we need the best people possible to perform at their best, we tend to pay them money and pay them more money if they meet certain goals.
> IMO the only way to run things like prisons is to hire people that strongly care about the public good to run them. Hire people who want to run a good organization that accomplishes the organization's goals. Which for prisons should be rehabilitation and safety.
Yes, ideally we'd have every job staffed people who are wise, kind, competent, and hard working. But we don't have nearly enough of such people and we judge traits inaccurately. So instead we have to make do with less effective but more practical methods. Financial incentives are one of those options.
A general counterargument is worth considering. Any incentive sufficiently powerful to draw forth extra resourcefulness in its legitimate pursuit is quite likely to also draw forth extra resourcefulness in its illegitimate pursuit.
> It's what businesses use for their leadership teams.
This is may help your case considerably less than you think if you look closely. Various forms of the principal-agent problem pop up all the time. Pink and Kohn have also forwarded some research suggesting that extrinsic incentives have diminishing returns or run counterproductive in some cases. And Goodhart's law is a proverb in the business world for a reason.
Aligning incentives is still important, but getting optimal performance is rarely as simple as tying rewards to a goal. Hell, half the time defining optimal performance is a project.
And when the underlying issues involve social safety and significantly curtailing someone's liberties via imprisonment (and the already fine tension between them), it's an especially tricky topic.
Simply handwaving it away with incentives being gamed seems to complete ignore that you are suggesting that there will be widespread systemic corruption of the entire nation's judicial system. Perhaps the general counterargument could really take a moment to focus on the details.
Prisoners not being convicted of more crimes down the line seems to be a no-brainer in societal benefit, or does the line of generalised argument presented here think that's not the case with some more handwaving about optimal outcomes?
EDIT: what does it mean that I love thinking about ways of gaming systems like this?
That you might be a good security researcher? From https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2008/03/the_security_...:
> Uncle Milton Industries has been selling ant farms to children since 1956. Some years ago, I remember opening one up with a friend. There were no actual ants included in the box. Instead, there was a card that you filled in with your address, and the company would mail you some ants. My friend expressed surprise that you could get ants sent to you in the mail.
> I replied: "What's really interesting is that these people will send a tube of live ants to anyone you tell them to."
Picking prisoners would be one obvious way.
Now, you can say "well, we'll just make sure they can't do that." That's fine; the overarching point here is that you can't simply set up an incentive system without thinking about the ways it can be gamed, among other unintended consequences.
Though: do you know that you can make sure prisons can't do that? Is it legal to forbid them a choice? Can you set up a system for distributing prisoners that's resistant to capture or influence? It's a little bit like saying "we'll just make sure our software is secure."
> you are suggesting that there will be widespread systemic corruption of the entire nation's judicial system.
I'm far from the only person suggesting that private prisons corrupt the criminal justice system, but yes, that's part of the argument.
Some people concerned about the issue believe that industry lobbyists work to back criminal code changes requiring more prison sentencing. Others believe in milder phenomena like judges internalizing lower costs of imprisonment and therefore using more of it in sentencing. The former could be described as corruption without being even slightly illegal. The latter might not even be recognized as a form of corruption, but it'd be a systemic issue unless you think imprisonment is underused in the US.
Yeah but I think the big question here is - in what cases?
There's a lot of evidence to suggest financial incentives are in some cases, bad.
Take for example, the financial incentives given to people for running a private prison. Bam.
Prison ships to Australia were originally paid per passenger that boarded in Britain. The death rates were horrible, in the double-digit percentages. When the transport ships were instead paid per passenger that _arrived_ the death rates went down phenomenally.
And someone like you might say: "omg these prison ships gamed the system by saving lives!!!" Yes, that's what we want to happen.
(edit: not sure what the downvote is for, but I want to be clear that I'm not for gaming the rates in this way. I'm merely saying we don't want to incentivize lowering recividism rates at the expense of everything else)
It’s a fantasy to think you can simple “hire people that care about the public good”. If that were the case the government wouldn’t be filled with incompetent red tape slingers vying for nothing more than a good retirement.
Yep. Thinking that you can just design a good incentive structure and be done with is hopelessly naive.
Thinking that you can just hire people that care about the public good is just as naive as thinking that you can just devise the right incentive structure.
More broadly, I don't think it's that easy to think that private prisons can even work well as a solution, regardless of whether they should be allowed to exist as a matter of public policy and ethics. Consider one summative look at this issue provided in this evaluation -- it's dubious whether they're even cost effective, one of the strongest pro-private-prison arguments there has been in public debate, and how there's much better alternatives than the kind of perverse incentives bundled with private prisons, like re-evaluating whether parolees should be allowed in public housing, and providing more transition housing so when sentences are complete, inmates aren't forced to spend even more time in prison because they don't have an address to go to.
I agree that existing private prisons are wasteful and cruel, but I think that could change if they had different incentives. Right now, convicts can't choose between private or public prison. That lack of choice means that private prisons have no incentive to be better than state run prisons. Private prisons usually charge per head. If no prisoners want to stay at the prison because it's a hellhole, revenue dries up and they go out of business.
I'm familiar with the cobra effect and ways in which adding financial incentives can cause counterproductive outcomes. I'm not particularly worried about that happening with private prisons. Financial incentives backfire in two cases:
1. When they fail to account for higher-order effects. (As happened with the cobra bounty in India.)
2. When they replace social incentives. For example: If a friend asks me to help them move, I'll probably oblige. But if I show up on moving day and I see some paid movers helping, I'll resent that. That's basically what happened with the day care that charged for being late. Previously, parents would show up on time because they felt a social obligation (guilt). When the day care added a late fee, that guilt disappeared because the transaction moved from the social realm to the financial realm.
I think the motivations of wardens and guards in both private and state runs prisons are pretty similar, and I don't think they're motivated by social incentives. For them, it's a job. They want to minimize the amount of stress at work, and that usually means minimizing the amount of violence prisoners do towards one another. Adding some financial incentives isn't going to solve all the problems with prisons, but considering our existing recidivism rates, I seriously doubt it will hurt.
p.s. It is possible to disagree with someone without being a moralizing asshole, you should try it sometime.
California's state-run prisons have a recidivism rate of 65% within 3 years. A 2% rate of conviction over 50 years is lower than the population of non-convicts. It's not possible for any organization to accomplish that. Also, the company would have to wait 50 years for payout. Even if that payout is with interest, 50 years is beyond the time horizons of most governments, let alone companies.
You're creating incentives for the prison operator to make sure prisoners are never released.
How's that? Waddayknow, they committed a new crime while in prison. Guess they have to stay a bit longer now. Sad.