The Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) recently completed an evaluation of the effects of private prison confinement on offender recidivism. The evaluation assessed the impact of confinement at the Prairie Correctional Facility (PCF) in Appleton, Minnesota on recidivism among 3,532 offenders released between 2007 and 2009. The average follow-up period for the offenders in this study was 2.5 years.

Key Findings

• Private prison confinement was associated with a greater risk of recidivism in all 20 Cox regression models that were estimated. This association was statistically significant in 8 of the 20 models.

• All five private prison measures examined in this study significantly increased the risk of reconviction.

• Three private prison measures significantly increased the risk of rearrest.

• None of the private prison variables had an impact on either reincarceration measure (new offense and technical violation revocation).

• The findings suggest that the PCF produced slightly worse recidivism outcomes among the healthiest and best-behaved prisoners for the same amount of money. The recidivism results may be due to fewer visitation and rehabilitative programming opportunities for offenders confined at PCF.

Prior to 2010, when prison population growth created shortages in prison beds at state facilities, the DOC frequently housed some of its prisoners at the PCF. The facility, which opened in 1996, once held as many as 1,200 Minnesota state prisoners. Operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a private prison company, the PCF closed in February 2010 due, in part, to slowed growth in Minnesota’s prison population, which minimized the need to transfer offenders to non-DOC facilities.

The evaluation examined whether private prison confinement had an impact on recidivism among prisoners released from Minnesota prisons between 2007 and 2009. Of the 9,535 offenders incarcerated in DOC facilities and released to the community during the 2007-2009 period, 1,766 (19 percent) spent at least a portion of their confinement at the PCF. Due to eligibility criteria, offenders had to meet in order to be transferred to the PCF, propensity score matching was used to individually match the 1,766 offenders who spent time in the PCF with 1,766 offenders from the comparison group pool of 7,769 prisoners who spent their entire confinement period in state correctional facilities.

Private prison confinement was measured five different ways in this study, and Cox regression analyses were used to determine whether confinement at the PCF had an impact on recidivism.

Recidivism Results

The data in Figure 1 show that offenders confined at the PCF had higher recidivism rates than the offenders in the comparison group. For example, 47 percent of the offenders in the private prison group had been rearrested for a new offense by the end of December 2010 compared with 41 percent of the comparison group offenders. The results also show that 31 percent of the private prison offenders were reconvicted for a new offense compared to 26 percent in the comparison group. In addition, 14 percent of the private prison offenders were reincarcerated for a new criminal offense compared to 13 percent of the comparison group offenders. Lastly, compared to the offenders in the comparison group, who had a technical violation revocation rate of 31percent, those in the private prison group had a rate of 33 percent.

Twenty Cox regression models were estimated that assessed the impact of private prison confinement, which was measured in five different ways, on the four recidivism measures. The results from the multivariate statistical analyses, which controlled for time at risk and other rival causal factors, revealed that private prison incarceration was associated with a greater risk of recidivism in all 20 Cox regression models that were estimated. This association was statistically significant, however, in only 8 of the 20 models.

While the findings suggest that time spent at the PCF did not have a beneficial impact on recidivism outcomes, it should be emphasized that the PCF confinement did not significantly increase risk consistently across all recidivism measures examined. Moreover, the magnitude of increased recidivism risk was relatively modest (13 percent for rearrest and 22 percent for reconviction) in the models that analyzed any private prison exposure.

Summary

Recent research on prisoners in Florida and Oklahoma indicates that confinement in private prisons does not lead to improved recidivism outcomes. Likewise, this study found that private prisons are not more effective in reducing recidivism, which may be attributable to fewer visitation and rehabilitative programming opportunities for offenders incarcerated at private facilities.

The results from this evaluation suggest that private prisons can offer correctional agencies a valuable resource – prison bed space – during periods of sharp population growth. The value of this resource declines, however, if bed space is available in state-operated facilities. More specifically, the evidence from this evaluation and prior studies indicates that private prisons are not a superior alternative to state-run prisons. The findings from this study suggest, if anything, that private prisons produce slightly worse recidivism outcomes among the healthiest and best-behaved prisoners for the same amount of money.

This March 2013 research summary is reprinted with permission from the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

(First published by Prison Legal News and used here by permission)

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

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