29 June 2009

Jail As A Business In Alabama

The private enterprise model doesn't always work for traditional government services like jails.

In Alabama earlier this year, a federal judge ordered the Morgan County sheriff locked up in his own jail for contempt for failing to adequately feed his inmates. Alabama allows sheriffs to keep food money they do not spend, and the sheriff reportedly pocketed more than $200,000 over three years.

This exact scenario would never happen in Colorado, where sheriffs receive straight salary compensation. But, the incentives in the private prison context are less clear. Texas has similarly misplaced incentives in civil forfeiture cases (as do many other states). The U.S. Supreme Court held in another case that it is unconstitutioonal for judges to be paid on a proprietary basis such as a percentage of the fines awarded by the court.

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