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Private jails aren’t better

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Though your opinion on prison privatization (Feb. 4) was accurate and informative, it did not thoroughly represent the legal and moral nightmare that privatization has become.

The theory is that private prisons save the taxpayer money, but an examination in 1996 by the General Accounting Office of the few available reports concluded that the studies "do not offer substantial evidence that savings have occurred." The most reliable study cited by the GAO found that a prison in Tennessee, run by Corrections Corp. of America, cost only 1 percent less to operate than two comparable state run prisons.At its heart, privatizing prisons is really about privatizing tax dollars, about transforming public money into private profits.

By privatizing prisons, government essentially auctions off inmates to the highest bidder. The founders of privatization call it the prison "market," a cynical approach to make the inmates seem somehow less than human. Do we want justice to be meted out by private interests?

Tennessee turned its South Central facility over to CCA in 1992. It was built at about the same time as two other state-run facilities with similar design and inmate populations, giving official a rare opportunity to compare costs and quality. The latest report states that during the past fiscal year, incidents of violence were 50 percent higher at South Central. One of the main causes is that, at that facility, they don't give the inmates anything to do. In other facilities they sell inmate labor. They take away "good time" for minor infractions because it is in their interest to keep them in there as long as possible. They are supporters of minimum mandatory sentencing. They are a business, and their business is to feed and count the inmates.

When you take into consideration the draconian drug laws that keep nonviolent offenders in pris-on for horrendous stretches of time, and the fact that more than half of all inmates are in prison for nonviolent drug offenses, you can see more clearly the moral dilemma in selling the people - your uncle, your little brother - to the corporation.

W.R. Jensen

Salt Lake City