Staffing Issues in Pennsylvania

Private prisons, when they do save money, are often able to do so primarily through reductions in staff costs (staffing being the most expensive component of a prison’s operation).  This comes in the forms of reduced pay, reduced benefits, less training, and lower staffing levels (staff-inmate ratios).  Taken together, these cuts present a dangerous situation for prisoners and staff alike, as criminals are guarded by too few people, many of whom are underqualified to be in their positions.  Turnover is exceptionally high among private prison staff, so many guards are really ill-prepared to handle the responsibility of managing prisoners.

Pennsylvania’s experimentation with private prisons is suffering from exactly these sorts of problems.  At a privately-run youth detention facility, underqualified staff and low staffing levels have contributed to numerous altercations between staff and prisoners.  “When I walk into certain places, I still see staff that are too young … that act like teenagers, that get in between the gossip and the drama… I understand it’s a difficult job, but I think you need to have a certain type of heart,” said an employee of the facility. 

 At another private youth facility run by the GEO Group, turnover for the month of May was greater than 20%; “The chronic issue of insufficient staffing had risen to a near emergency level, making it impossible for staff to provide consistent supervision, much less, meaningful programming to clients.”

When you turn to private companies to provide an inherently governmental service, you should expect outcomes like this.  Unfortunately, many children have had to suffer because of the decisions of overzealous conservative lawmakers who push to privatize every service the government provides.