Mr. Speaker, it appears that there is a growing movement both nationally and internationally to have jails and/or correctional facilities privatized. We see this happening more and more. I note, for example, that New Brunswick, Ontario and Nova Scotia are experimenting with jails planned, constructed and operated by private interests. Meanwhile I also note that the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand have more than 130 proposed or completed correctional facilities with varying degrees of private involvement.
Some advocates who favour privatization argue that privatization can result in significant cost savings, fewer problems with inmates and better rehabilitation and education programs. Opponents, on the other hand, contend that privatization benefits a handful of large companies at the expense of long term public safety. They argue that the private sector has an incentive to keep prisons full to gain maximum profit, reducing the incentive to reform offenders, seek alternatives to jail or support crime prevention programs.
There have been some studies done in this area and it is interesting to note that some evaluations indicate that private prisons can yield savings of between 5% and 30% largely through smaller payroll costs. However, other studies, including a 1996 report by the United States general accounting office, found conflicting evidence on what to expect from privatization in the way of costs and quality of service.
All this means that privatization is a contentious issue. It clearly needs to be weighed out carefully before proceeding. The pros and cons must be carefully considered prior to any move to privatize prisons and/or correctional facilities.
My question to the solicitor general is quite simple. Is privatization worth trying or are prisons best left in the hands of the public sector?