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Report Says Prison Privatization Expanding Internationally

A recent report from The Sentencing Project, based in Washington, D.C., concludes that the mass-privatization of American prisons has encouraged, not deterred, many countries—including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Brazil—to hand over the responsibility of its prisoners to for-profit companies.

"Research to date on private prisons has found that they perform no better than publicly operated facilities, are not guaranteed to reduce correctional costs, and provide an incentive for increasing correctional and detention populations," The Sentencing Project says in its August 2013 report on international trends in prison privatization.

"Despite these repeated failings," the report argues, "many countries, including those facing serious problems in the quality and capabilities of their correctional systems, have followed the United States in adopting a flawed and shortsighted scheme."

The report finds that Florida-based GEO Group, the second-largest private prison company in the United States, made 14% of its 2012 revenue off "international services," while G4S, a United Kingdom-based for-profit prison operator, claims to be the "largest security service provider in the world."

GEO Group, G4S and Britain's Serco, all of which "dominate" the international market, the report says, have found at least 11 countries spread across North and South America, Europe, Africa and Oceania as willing partners in prison privatization.

Although the United States holds the largest population of prisoners in private facilities (more than 130,000 nationwide), other countries imprison a larger proportion of privately incarcerated prisoners, the report says. Australia, in fact, holds the highest said portion at 19%, or nearly 1 in 5, of its 28,711 total prisoners—not including immigrant detainees—in private prisons.

As in the U.S., for-profit operators abroad have targeted immigrant detention, especially in the U.K.—where 73% of the country's immigrant detainees are privately incarcerated—and Australia, which, as of April 2013, imprisons all of its 8,797 immigrant detainees in private facilities.

Deficiencies in private prison services, the report says, "may have contributed to several violent riots and alleged abuse at immigration detention centers in Australia, as well as negative assessments of facilities in other countries."

Private prison companies' business model "leaves their financial success dependent on individuals being incarcerated and detained, regardless of the country in which they are operating," the report says. "This creates a natural incentive for these companies to promote policies that will ensure higher incarceration rates and more privatization contracts."

Prison privatization in the U.S. and internationally, the report recommends, "Should be restricted and reduced with the aim of turning toward more effective and fiscally sound measures to reduce costs and prison overcrowding, such as reforming sentencing laws and adopting alternatives to incarceration."

Source:”International Growth Trends in Prison Privatization; The Sentencing Project, August 2013,