Private State Prison Inmates in Florida

A research was conducted by Bales et al. who concluded that their study found no significant differences in recidivism between offenders after their release from publicly and privately managed prisons in Florida.  It also concluded 1) that the argument of the opponents of privatization that the full-scale privatization of jails and prisons is a failure lacks basis and support; and 2) that the claims of the proponents of privatization that it would bring about major cost savings and substantial improvements in the quality of service is also unsubstantiated (Charles w. Thomas, p.89).

Initially, Charles W. Thomas commends the Bales et al. study for their contribution in “modestly advancing” the public’s understanding of the impact of privatization on the United States correctional system.  While Thomas commends the effort undertaken by Bales et al., he however warns against making generalizations about the differences between private and publicly-funded prisons based on inexact and imprecise methods.

Specifically, Thomas argues that it is insufficient to compare both public and private prisons as if they are two opposing entities.  Thomas argues that when the government asks the private agencies to handle management of correctional facilities and services part of the contractual undertaking of private management firms is to discharge their responsibility in the same way as the government agencies in traditional correctional facilities.

Secondly, while recidivism rate is an important issue given the millions of inmates who are currently in prison and the number of inmates who have served their sentences, it is not at all fair to blame correctional facilities and make them accountable for the consequences of the action of inmates which are shaped by what they experience before and after their incarceration.

Third, Thomas expresses doubts about making a comparison between private and public prisons based on the weak quality of recidivism data.  He warns that the data used by Bales et al. to support their conclusion in their study was weak.

While Thomas makes a sharp analysis of the research conducted by Bales et al I disagree with some of the matters he discussed.  I disagree with Thomas’ assertion that the quality of service given by either private and public prisons should not be measured in terms of its effect on recidivism rate.  First, one of the fundamental policies behind the United States correctional system is to reform, rehabilitate and the treat criminal offenders.  Prisons do not exist simply to punish criminal offenders.

They exist so that criminal offenders will become better individuals after they released form prison. If prisons do not seek to at least minimize the possibility that criminal offenders will re-commit crimes, then prisons do not serve any useful purpose to the society other than punishing them for the crime they committed.

 Second, while I agree that researchers should refrain from making generalizations based on weak data and that there is no substantial differences between offenders in public prisons compared to those in private prisons, I would like to stress that efforts should be made so that recidivism rates in public and private prisons be actually measured.  Thomas criticizes the study conducted by Bales et al. and argues that it is based on the weak quality of recidivism data.

He however fails to specify the basis for his assertion and why he thinks that the recidivism data gathered by Bales et al. is weak.  He also fails to make suggestions and recommendations on how future researchers can improve their data gathering techniques.  He simply concludes that the recidivism data gathered by Bales et al. is weak.

 In sum, I find Thomas to be methodical in his approach but very noncommittal.  He did not take a stand on the issue.  If there are weaknesses in the research then he should have suggested ways to improve it.  I found the study of Bales et al even better as they boldly took a stand on the issue.


Thomas, Charles W.  “Recidivism of Public and Private State Prison Inmates in Florida: Issues

and Unanswered Questions.”  Criminology & Public Policy. Columbus: Feb 2005. Vol. 4, Iss. 1; p. 89.