Since the 1980s, federal and local governments have increasingly used public money to hire private firms to house and manage people who are incarcerated. In the last few years, the number of incarcerated individuals held in privately operated institutions has risen sharply. A new study sought to determine the points at which individuals who encounter public systems of justice are charged by private entities. The study found that private firms that work with public entities in the justice system charge money for their services at numerous points, that some of the charges are mandated, and that there is little transparency into or oversight over how these public-private partnerships operate.

The study, by researchers at the University of Washington, appears in Criminology & Public Policy, a publication of the American Society of Criminology.

Alexes Harris et al, Justice "cost points", Criminology & Public Policy (2019).  

Authors: Alexes Harris Tyler Smith Emmi Obara; DOI: 10.1111/1745-9133.12442

Research Summary: In addition to outsourcing the management of correctional facilities, many local and state authorities contract with private companies to provide a variety of services and processes within U.S. courthouses, jails, and prisons. In this article, we explore the various “cost points” at which individuals who make contact with public systems of justice are charged by private entities. We provide two case studies with an in‐depth look at how private companies make money within U.S. justice facilities—court‐ordered programs and prison services.

Policy Implications: Through our examples, we show the extent to which private companies generate profits within U.S. systems of justice and the potential impacts of justice “cost points” on those involved in these systems. We end by suggesting policy makers more thoroughly explore the reasons for the privatization of justice system practices and services and develop transparent oversight to ensure private arrangements do not impose undue burdens on justice‐involved individuals and their families.