Violence and Crime

Private Prisons and Restorative Justice

Thoughtful citizens are beginning to question the ability of privately-operated, for-profit corporations to manage prisons effectively. The profit motive may lead to reduced efforts to change behaviors, treat substance abuse, and offer skills necessary for reintegration into the community. Serious questions of public safety have arisen in states that permit private prisons. Their employees suffer from poor or improper training, under-staffing, high rates of turnover, low wages, and minimal benefits. Evidence also suggests that there are more frequent escapes from private prisons than state or federal facilities.

Prisoners in private facilities are frequently transferred from out of state, often to remote areas, depriving them of family and community support and contact. The principal strategy by which private prisons generate profit involves cutting corners in worker salaries and benefits, and failing to offer truly adequate programs, health care, and nutrition to those in custody. Rehabilitation programs leading to favorable evaluation for parole and release are not good for business.

As the Catholic Bishops of the South state in their document Wardens from Wall Street: Prison Privatization, "We believe that private prisons confront us with serious moral issues, demanding a gospel response. To deprive other persons of their freedom, to restrict them from contact with other human beings, to use force against them up to and including deadly force, are the most serious of acts. To delegate such acts to institutions whose success depends on the amount of profit they generate is to invite abuse and to abdicate our responsibility to care for our sisters and brothers."

Punishment in a just society must have clear purposes: protecting society and rehabilitating those who violate the law. The common good is undermined when we forget that those who have committed crimes deserve to be treated with dignity as children of God. The ultimate aim of criminal sentences should be the re-integration of the offender into community and society. (See "Message of John Paul II for the Jubilee in Prisons," July 9, 2000, section 5, at http://www.usccb.org/pope/prisons.htm )We commend the system of "Day Report Centers" arising in this state which, based upon a philosophy of "restorative justice," provides alternatives to imprisonment for convicted felons posing low risk to the community. Indeed, education, counseling, and substance abuse programs, as well as a network of family and community support, are the most effective tools in achieving the goal of restoring those convicted of serious crimes to full participation in society.

Suggested Policy Directions

We support policies that -

  • Prohibit or limit privately-operated prisons in West Virginia
  • Provide quality educational and rehabilitative programs for prisoners
  • Challenge the idea that warehousing prisoners for profit is a legitimate form of "economic development"
  • Protect and encourage prisoners support networks, allowing contact with friends and family
  • Encourage alternative sentencing, especially for non-violent offenders
  • Protect public and prisoner safety by allowing only government to perform functions related to incarceration