Private and Public Prisons:

Studies Comparing Operational Costs and/or Quality of Service

GGD-96-158: Published: Aug 16, 1996. Publicly Released: Aug 16, 1996.

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GAO reviewed several studies that compared privatized and public correctional facilities in terms of operational costs and quality of service.

GAO found that: (1) five studies comparing operational costs or quality of service at private and public correctional facilities in California, Tennessee, Washington, Texas, and New Mexico had been completed since 1991; (2) it could not draw any conclusions about cost savings or quality of service, since the four studies that assessed operational costs indicated little difference or mixed results, and the two studies that addressed quality of life reported either equivocal findings or no differences between private and public facilities; and (3) the studies provide little information that is applicable to various correctional settings, since states may differ widely in terms of correctional philosophy, economic factors, and inmate population characteristics. GAO believes that future comparative studies of public and private correctional facilities should: (1) focus on both operational costs and quality of service; (2) evaluate operational costs at existing comparable, not hypothetical, facilities; (3) employ multiple indicators or data sources to objectively measure quality of service issues; and (4) be based upon data collected over several years.

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