Right now in the United States of America, there are over 2.2 million people incarcerated.
And prisons are a huge business. You have the prison guard's union which is enjoying huge political clout in states such as California. Building prisons and incarcerating people is one of the fastest growing industries in California. Locking people up is a business - and right now, business is good.
The problem is - is this really the most effective thing? Look at the incentives:
More people into prisons means more money for the prison industry. Which means that the *incentive* is to get more people into the prison system, instead of out of it being productive citizens.
If you're the prison industry, why put money into schools? That would cut down on the number of people in prisons, which means less money for the prison industry. Why spend money on reforming people when that will get them out of the prison system faster?
Remember: incentives. Prisons - both private and government run - have an incentive to have more people inside their prisons because it makes the private industry more money, the prison worker's unions have an incentive because more prisoners means you need more guards which means you have more union members with clout.
So: change the incentive. My proposal:
The prison industry gets paid a rate per prisoner actively incarcerated, but the prison industry gets a higher rate for those out of prison on probation - as long as they haven't committed a crime.
This does two things. One, it reduces the incentive to simply have more prisons and prisoners. It encourages the prison system to do more than just lock people up - but to make them part of society. When the person is *out* of prison, the prison system actually makes *more* money.
Of course, there's a catch: they only make more money as long as the person is out of prison without committing a crime. So it's not just "throw them out", but "make sure they have the support and jobs and whatever else they need to stay out."
This will be actually *more* expensive than what we have now. The whole idea of the prison system being turned over to private industry was that it was going to cost less - you know, the market doing its magic and finding the best performance at the lowest cost.
Instead, we have overcrowding in the California prisons, to the point that the CA Supreme Court has ordered non-violent prisoners released to solve the problem.
Change the incentives, and you can change the results. Yes, it will mean more money, but right now, the current system isn't working. And, over time, as we work more in reforming and reintegrating people back into society, those costs will go down.