As an academic, it’s my job to be a skeptic.
That’s why, when two researchers at Temple University published a study last year claiming that for-profit prison companies can save states lots of money, I wanted to know how they’d reached their conclusions.
Well, the answer isn’t surprising: the for-profit prison industry paid for it.
And we’ve seen this type of play before.
Industries, companies, and special interest groups often manipulate “facts” to cast themselves in a positive light. Whether by funding intellectually dubious studies or running misleading advertisements, many have tried to persuade others to buy products based on deception.
And that’s just what the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is trying to do here. The company’s promotional materials continually reference the Temple University study as “independent” confirmation of the benefits of private prisons. Moreover, the company uses this study to persuade states to offer them multi-million dollar contracts.
This is problematic on several levels. First, it’s unethical to claim a study is “independent” when a company pays for favorable results. Second, it’s unscrupulous to curry favor with public officials by citing a bought-and-paid-for piece of research. And finally, it’s unprofessional for university researchers to publish studies without disclosing their corporate benefactors, as the professors originally did here.
Though an ethics complaint was recently filed against the professors, CCA continues to include the Temple University study in its promotional materials.
Today, in an Open Letter to CCA, I’m asking them to stop. According to my analysis, the study’s methodology is misleading and its conclusions are inaccurate.
Here’s just one example. In California, CCA has negotiated a deal to house only 8,600 of the youngest, healthiest, and least expensive California prisoners in their out-of-state facilities. Publicly-run facilities, on the other hand, are responsible for housing individuals who are the most expensive to incarcerate and to treat.
The Temple Study looked at the operating costs of CCA versus publicly run facilities, and concluded that CCA is more efficient – without acknowledging or taking into account at all the fact that CCA and publicly run facilities each house dramatically different populations with significant differences in their cost of care. The striking differences in prisoner health, age, and cost by facility are indisputable and challenge the very legitimacy of the study that the for-profit prison industry funded and continues to publicize.
This is just one of the many reasons why the Temple University study is worth our scrutiny. You can read a more thorough analysis in my Open Letter to CCA.
Our country’s multi-billion dollar for-profit, private prison industry must stop citing a bought-and-paid-for study that is fundamentally misleading.