Prisons as big business


University of British Columbia

Date Issued


Document Type



Master of Laws - LLM




Contemporary prison systems are faced with such overwhelming problems that they are argued to be in a crisis. Privatization of prisons is offered as the solution for the troubled penal system, both by private companies greedy to move in on this new expanding market, and by conservative governments eager to show they are "dealing" with crime but yet cutting costs. It is argued that by contracting out corrections to private firms, the quality of imprisonment can be improved, while money can be saved. This thesis explores whether privatization of prisons is the solution it is argued to be for the current penal crisis. To establish whether privatization is a solution for the penal crisis it is important to define this alleged penal crisis. In this thesis I demonstrate that the term penal crisis is not sufficient as it suggests that all that is needed is a quick emergency solution. Privatization is offered as such a solution, but it does not deal with the high imprisonment rates and the overrepresentation of minorities in the prison system. It does not deal with the nature and inefficiency of imprisonment itself or with any of the systematic problems of the criminal justice system such as discrimination and the definition of what constitutes crime. Privatization also does not deal with any of the underlying causes of crime in society, such as inequality, poverty, unemployment and problems resulting from colonialism. It is impossible to view privatization separately from these bigger issues in penality. Thus, my conclusion is that the problems in the prison system are so systematic and deep, and so engrained in the structure of society that privatization is not going to solve them.

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