Once when I was on a panel discussing privatization, one person said a city should privatize sewers over water service because nobody cares what happens after they flush the toilet, making it an easier political sell.
I took the opposite view for the same underlying reason. Because people do care more about what comes out of their tap, there will be much more focus on holding any private vendor to account to actually deliver the service well.
Given the risk of corruption, bureaucratic ineptitude, etc., I’ve long said that privatization is best for highly visible assets and services the general public sees and users versus things that are out of sight out of mind. This turns the public into an accountability layer and increases the political risk of privatization, making it more likely the politicians will stay on top of things.
Garbage collection, airports, roads and bridges, a parks conservancy, etc. – all of these are highly visible. The public will see and squawk if something goes wrong.
Prisons are about as far from this as you can possibly get. They are largely invisible to the general public, the “consumers” of the service have little ability to hold the operators accountable, and the public is generally primed to see bad things happening to those in jail as karmic justice.
What’s more, private prisons create a financially self-interested lobbying group in favor putting more people in prison to boost business – not a good idea.
So I’ve always thought privatized corrections was a bad idea. Apparently the federal government finally agrees, as it just announced it is phasing out the use of private prisons.
This is a good move. Whatever theoretical benefits of privatizing prisons, the risks outweigh the potential benefits. I wouldn’t necessarily object to a private company constructing and maintaining the prison building under some type of P3 deal – the risks are lower there – but not actually operating the prison itself.