I think the jury on public-private partnerships (P3) is still out. I accept that they are a reality that we are going to have to deal with on an ever-increasing basis, especially with the infrastructure deficit in the country. And I believe there is potentially a lot of utility in leveraging the private sector to achieve societal goals and improve the public good, with the caveat that the public good must take precedence over the profit (the fourth ‘P’) motive. That is not to say the ‘private’ in the PPP should not make a profit.
On the other hand, I think the jury has long since come back on the idea of private sector involvement in a correctional system. The experience of our American cousins with their privately-run prisons is an unmitigated disaster. As crime has actually been going down everywhere in the developed world, including the United States, for the last few decades, our southern neighbour is locking up more people than any other country in the world.
Perhaps it is not fair to compare the U.S. to despotic nations that still execute people en masse thus relieving them of the necessity of incarcerating their citizens. And I am not suggesting that private prisons are solely responsible for increasing and perpetuating the incarceration problem in America—blame draconian drug laws, Republican “tough” on crime ideology and uber-libertarian gun culture—but the evidence is increasingly demonstrating that the American version of P3 (Private for Profit Prisons) is exacerbating it.
Last week, I was thrilled to learn that North Battleford was getting a new mental health hospital and correctional facility. As someone who spends a lot of time engaged with the justice system, I believe I know how valuable this kind of modern centre can be.
“The new integrated facility will be built with a vision to provide important support for offenders living with mental health issues,” said Christine Tell, Saskatchewan corrections and policing minister.
Then I noted that the new facility will be built and maintained through a P3.
I am in no way equating this project with the failed U.S. private prison experiment, but it does concern me a little bit. On that list of countries’ incarceration rates on which the U.S. is number one, Canada still sits somewhere in the early 100s despite our own neo-conservatives’ penchant for building prisons and valuing punishment over recovery and rehabilitation.
Because mental health, addictions and crime are so intimately intertwined, the new Saskatchewan Hospital North Battleford is exactly what we need more of, but we must closely monitor how Saskatchewan moves forward with this kind of project lest we let the pendulum swing too far to the right.