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Problem With Private Prisons: Judges Jailed Kids For Money

The sentencers have become the sentencees in a Pennsylvania courtroom, where two judges pleaded guilty yesterday to accepting over $2.6 million from private detention centers in exchange for handing down long sentences to hundreds of juveniles.

Between 2003 and 2006, teens who came before the judges received time in detention centers for minor crimes. In exchange, the judges got paid. One teen received three months for shoplifting.

These individual judges are nothing less than criminals, but perhaps their crimes expose the bad incentives involved with the whole system of private prisons. For each prisoner they house, a private company receives money from the government. Just like every other business, private prisons want to make as much money as they can.

Thus there's an incentive to keep more people in prison for a longer period of time. The well-financed and organized prisons can lobby to make sentences harsher. Last November, the prison lobby in California helped kill a plan for recidivism-reducing programs that could have saved $2.5 billion in spending and reduced the prison population.

Do you think privatizing prisons is part of the problem?


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