In general, correctional facilities were operated by the state. However, when the prison overcrowding issues emerged in the 1980s, private sector’s participation in correctional work, private capital and resources, and innovative correctional programs were introduced. On December 1, 2010, Korea's first private prison, ‘Somang Prison’ opened in Yeoju, Gyeonggi-do, and in operation for 10 years so far in 2021. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to evaluate the operational performance of private prisons and provide measures for the improvement of private prisons.
First of all, several private prison models of foreign countries such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and Japan are reviewed. There are several research implications as below: In the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, it is found that there are various issues and problems within the aspect of commercial private prisons. In general, corporations are trying to cut expenditures and increase profits. As a result, there are a variety of matters including prison population, medical services, food preparation services, job training for prisoners and security issues within the aspect of commercial private prisons. Moreover, for-profit private prison corporations are now facing a various challenges by ‘ESG’ concerns and public opinion based on social justice. Therefore, it matters how they are evaluated by financial markets. Hence, for-profit private prison would not be easily adopted by states concerned with such issues. In Germany, meanwhile, there are constitutional limitations against full privatization of correction(that is called ‘commercialization of correction’). In this context, some States of Germany introduced semi-private prisons in which the correctional officers have main control and responsibilities over the prison, especially over the physical control over the prisoners in the purpose of correction. It is believed that such approaches are mainly related to the emphasis on the quality maintenance of correctional service, under the legal barriers on full privatization of correction. This shows that it is need to find proper methods for performance assessment of both financial and non-financial evaluations of correctional services in order to maintain the required quality.
In order to assess the operational output of the private prison Somang, analysis framework was developed through literature review and advisory conference. Five elements for analysis include observance of mandatory provisions, satisfaction of expectation of private prisons, organization and operation, treatment of prisoners, and perceptions of private prisons. Five research methods were employed, including records survey, institutional survey, survey and interviews of prisoners and correctional officers, and public survey. Three public prisons were selected to compare with Somang, including Chunan Open Prison(S1), Youngwol Prison(S2), and Jungeup Prison(S3).
First, observance of mandatory provisions is met, although at the early stage of private prison, several issues happened, which were addressed through early intervention of Ministry of Justice.
Second, regarding expectations of private prisons, utilizing volunteers and community resource, and reducing cost were quite met. Private prison Somang has been using a huge number of volunteers, which leads to higher level of prisoner satisfaction and saving cost. As private prison Somang has received 90% of the normal cost of prison operation compared to public prison and built their own correctional facility using their finance, significant cost were saved. However, as only one private prison could not contribute to solving prison overcrowding issue, more private prisons are needed. As for the recidivism, according to the official statistics, private prison Somang showed lower recidivism rate(10~12%) than total recidivism rate(21~26%) between 2011~ 2017. However, recidivism rate of two groups were not significantly different, when propensity score matching were utilized. Released prisoners from both public prisons and a private prison were matched based on age, education level, crime type, the number of crime, sentence length, and type of release. 856 inmates from each prison(public vs private) were mached respectively. Tree year recidivism rate of public prison inmates(10.1%) was lower than private prison inmate(10.6%), while until 2020 recidivism rate of private prison inmate(16.8%) were lower that public prison inmate(17.7%). It is, however, not statistically significant differences. In addition, Cox proportional hazards regression presented no significant difference between private prison inmates and public prison inmates. On the other hand, both respondents of prisoners and officers in survey and interview demonstrated expectation that due to the innovative rehabilitation programs and treatment, private prison would illicit lower level of recidivism.
Third, in terms of organization and operation, private prison has been doing effective and efficient performance. With the limited cost and personnel, private prison Somang has effectively managed prison and treat inmates.
Forth, regarding treatment of prisoners, private prison Somang has demonstrated outstanding outcomes. Innovate rehabilitation programs such as communal meal together, child-friendly family visiting spaces, higher level of inmate earning, high quality of character education and new inmate education, autonomy activities, weekends programs, and after care programs were well organized and implemented. These programs were highly appreciated among prisoners and correctional officers.
Fifth, perceptions of private prisons were quite positive and supportive among prisoners, correctional officers and the public. Cost-effectiveness, lower recidivism, flexible operation of organization, and innovative inmate treatment and rehabilitation programs are perceived as strengths of private prison, while security issue, profit prison and violent inmate issue were concerned. Private prison inmates and correctional officers demonstrated higher level of satisfaction, while public prison inmates showed positive attitudes toward private prison. The public as well as prisoners and correctional officers agreed to utilize private prison for various types of correctional facilities, including women prisons, juvenile detention center, job training centers and classification center.
Based on these findings, the current study presents policy implications to improve private prisons system. As a short-term development plan, it suggested sharing the innovative prisoner treatment and rehabilitation programs with public prisons, developing partnerships between state-run and private prisons, and addressing tax revenue on property of the Foundation issue. As mid- to long-term development measures, developing private prison performance assessment tool, removing or reducing current residing supervisors in order to get rid of hidden cost, developing specialized prison such as prisons for high-risk sex and drug offenders, classification centers or job training center, adjusting private prison capacity, and establishing small private prisons.