We already know they're terrible for inmates (whose housing, food, health care, and "security" are controlled, 24 hours a day, by businesses that make money by cutting corners) and those inmates' families and communities.
For-profit prisons are also bad for investors. Here's a representative tidbit from a recent article on dailyfinance.com:
What's a $74 billion industry with a potential customer pool of 1.6 million users, a monthly membership cost of $1,500, and a retention rate that would leave Sirius XM or Netflix drooling? The answer: private prisons. However, a critical look at the failings and financial fudging of these corporations reveals several reasons why this sector is destined for destruction.
And they're bad for local economies. Prison privateers like to talk (or pay other people to talk) about how small, economically depressed towns can benefit from for-profit prisons. That's the only reason legislators allow them—their constituents want jobs, for-profit prisons equal jobs, and jobs equal economic recovery. Right?
Researchers at Washington State University ran the numbers and found out this rhetoric was completely false.
Proponents of privatization anticipate positive economic outcomes - lower costs to taxpayers, similar or improved service delivery and improved salary and working conditions. But Hooks and fellow researchers Clayton Mosher, WSU associate professor of sociology, and Shaun Genter, a WSU alumnus teaching sociology at Tacoma Community College, found many of the jobs promised by private prisons simply never materialized.
"Privatization of prison systems places downward pressure on staffing, pay and benefits for all prisons in the state, including those that have yet to be privatized,” Hooks said. "As a consequence, prisons not only fail to help, but appear to harm employment levels in their host communities.”
The researchers also determined that private prisons are less likely to contribute to employment stability than publicly run prisons because of their comparatively high turnover rate, which the researchers believe is the result of the relatively low wages paid by private prison operators.
The authors write that available data from the U.S. Department of Labor indicate the median annual wage for correctional officers employed by the federal government was $50,830, compared with $38,850 for officers employed by state governments and $37,510 for those employed by local governments. In contrast, officers employed in privately operated prisons earned a median salary of $28,790.
"Nationally, the most recent estimates of annual employee turnover in private prisons is 52 percent, compared to between 12 and 25 percent in public prisons,” said Hooks. "In Texas, for instance, a state senate committee found annual staff turnover rates of 90 percent in private prisons, compared to 24 percent among state-employed correctional officers.”
Hooks said one of the ironies of the prison expansion boom of the 1980s and 1990s is that state resources used to fund prison growth were often diverted from education, including state supported community colleges serving rural communities.
So. For-profit prisons are bad for everyone: their inmates, their investors, their employees, and the rest of us.