"Corrections and education are core functions of government, and we should maintain the government control in Pennsylvania over them." Mike Fleck (R) Hunterdon County, PA recently said this in a discussion over the possible privatizing of the Mental Health Services in Pennsylvania prisons.
Privatization of services in prison has not saved costs and some hidden costs have been observed. In addition, it creates a financial incentive to get more prisoners into the jails. Faith communities in particular have expressed concerns about private companies earning profits from incarcerating citizens. Last year, the Pennsylvania prisons decided not to privatize nursing services.
Rather than privatization, costs can be cut by relaxing mandatory sentences, streamlining the probation process, and providing community supports that will help fewer inmates return to jail.
The American Legislative Exchange Council known as ALEC has supported legislation which would benefit the private prison industry at the expense of the public good. ALEC has pushed for tougher sentencing laws and supported programs that replace public workers with prison labor. Due to a little known federal program known as PIE, The Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program, many inmates are now providing involuntary low cost labor for the government. Using prisoners for labor is a very dangerous idea, because it creates incentives to keep citizens incarcerated for longer periods and disincentives for paroling and rehabilitating those prisoners who wish to change.
One in every five prisoners requires mental health monitoring while in the prisons. Providing mental health services to prisoners requires skilled and properly trained workers. A private firm providing mental health services inside a prison would have an incentive to take shortcuts and withhold medically necessary services. This could jeopardize the lives of inmates and prison employees as well as prevent effective rehabilitation for prisoners with mental health disorders.
Treating mentally ill prisoners is a moral imperative. It should not be provided by private companies who will put their interests ahead of the public good. Tell your state representative that you oppose privatization of prison mental health services.