Over the last decade there has been an increased public focus on creating civilian oversight of jails and civilian-led policies to improve the treatment of people who are detained awaiting trials. Similarly, how and when police officers can use force remains one of the most pressing public policy debates in American society today. Despite the immense public importance of corrections and policing practices, decisions about these issues are often not made by elected officials or public servants. Instead, in many communities, they are being made by private corporations that are largely unaccountable to anyone other than their shareholders.
Even though privatization excludes communities from important corrections and policing decisions, points of intervention exist. The public can influence minimum standards for private contracts, oppose their formation, and prevent their renewal. To be clear, public entities cause significant harm in policing and carceral spaces. Replacing private contracts with government operation alone will not fix the policing and incarceration problems in our country–we need to shrink the scope of policing, enact significant accountability reforms, and stop incarcerating people absent compelling public safety concerns. However, ending privatization is an essential step towards initiating many fundamental policy solutions and will help minimize the particularly egregious outcomes that result from corporate control of police departments and jails. This white paper provides an overview of common harms associated with privatizing policing and corrections as well as outlines legislative options and tactics to prevent them from being signed in the first place.