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The economic downturn has resulted in a budget crisis for Ohio, as it has for other states, and out-of-control prison costs have emerged as a key concern. 

The ACLU of Ohio has been a forceful proponent of sentencing reform where policymakers may save taxpayer dollars and help create a more just society.

Governor John Kasich’s new budget plan includes a sweeping overhaul of Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation & Correction. The proposal includes commonsense sentencing reforms that would help ease our overcrowded prison system. Unfortunately, the proposed budget also includes a plan to sell five state correctional facilities to “prison for profit” operators like Corrections Corporation of America and contract with those companies to house inmates in them.

Privatizing state prisons may in fact undermine sentencing reform’s goal to remove low level offenders from the justice system. Prisons for profit are different from public institutions because they must  generate revenues for their shareholders. As a result, they have a direct interest in ensuring that Ohio’s prison system stays full to maximize its profitability. 

This is not the first time prison privatization has been proposed as a cost-saving measure for Ohio taxpayers. In the 1990s, Ohio experimented with a private penitentiary in Youngstown that resulted in serious safety and fiscal concerns. Currently, the state has limited private facilities to Northcoast Correctional Facility and Lake Erie Correctional Facility, which hold inmates with minimal health and behavioral issues.

Legislators are taking steps to correct our broken prison system, but privatization will negate this important work. This report seeks to explore the many problems that plague prisons for profit, in the areas of fiscal efficiency, safety, contributions to the community, accountability and effect on recidivism.

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