The problem is that private prisons are not really private, but they are prisons. Because “private” prisons get their money through government contracts, the incentive structure is confused, sometimes criminally so. When private contractors lobby government for public dollars, their customers are government officials, bureaucrats, elected officials, and sometimes judges.
Take for instance Mark Ciavarella, a state judge in Pennsylvania who was convicted in federal court of conspiring with a prison developer to sentence juveniles to jail in exchange for kickbacks.
According to The Independent (UK):
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has overturned some 4,000 convictions issued by the former Luzerne County judge between 2003 and 2008, claiming he violated the constitutional rights of the juveniles – including the right to legal counsel and the right to intelligently enter a plea. Ciavarella Jnr, 61, was tried and convicted of racketeering charges earlier this year but his lawyers had asked for a “reasonable” sentence, claiming that he had already been punished enough.
Is 28 years is the appropriate sentence? No. This is the federal government’s version of criminal justice, which is notoriously harsh.
But it exposes, at least in its most egregious form, the problem of privatization in what is essentially a government operation of criminal justice.