Private prisons have a very bad reputation among criminal justice reformers, and it’s well deserved. In recent years, the ugliest outbreaks of prison violence toward correctional officers and among inmates have occurred in Oklahoma’s private prisons, underlining the dangerous conditions in those facilities. Advocates warn that the profit motive of private prisons leads to cutting costs at the expense of safety and rehabilitation and that the industry’s lobbyists spend big to support punitive justice policies to ensure prisons remain full.
These claims have merit, and no one seeking a fairer, more effective justice system should advocate for more private prisons here or anywhere else. But blaming private prisons for Oklahoma’s deep incarceration problems is misguided, and limited resources should be focused on the important opportunities for progress we have in the current legislative session.
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