U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Governments' Management of Private Prisons

NCJ Number
Date Published
September 2003
139 pages
This report examines State and Federal governments' practices of contracting with private firms to manage prisons, including prisons owned by State and Federal governments and those owned by private firms, with attention to contracting for imprisonment services in secure facilities for convicted adult offenders.
A mail survey was sent to directors of correction in State and Federal governments to inquire about several aspects of contracting practices as of the end of 1997. Additional information was obtained through telephone interviews with selected directors in several State. On-site visits were conducted to prisons in Texas, Oklahoma, and Florida; these included interviews with public officials and private prison administrators. Twenty-three States reported having contracts with private firms on December 31, 1997, as did the District of Columbia, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Two other States reported placing prisoners in private facilities in other States. The dominant mode of contracting with private entities for prison management is for a government agency to contract for some of its needed State prison beds and then to seek a contractor willing to provide these beds in-State. The second general pattern of contracting for prison beds poses different challenges for State management. Rather than waiting for the States to issue a call for service, some private firms take the risk of building facilities without first being assured of any prisoners from a particular corrections department. Once built and staffed, they advertise their availability to correctional and law enforcement agencies anywhere in the county that are in need of prison beds. This report discusses governments' objectives in turning to private imprisonment firms, the contractual structure, and the monitoring of contractors' performance. The case studies of contracting in particular States focus on the distinctive issues of contracting in each State. In Texas, the focus is on going private to expand capacity quickly. Florida has sought more cost-effective performance in prison management, and Oklahoma has addressed the management of the risks of dependence on private firms.

Date Published: September 1, 2003