Haidar Daudu
Haidar Daudu

Why Nigerian Govt Should Privatise Prisons, By Haidar Daudu

NEWS DIGEST –  “If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there’d be a shortage of sand.”-Milton Friedman

The spate of insecurity in Nigeria has increased the demand for prison services which is grossly inadequate. There is a huge supply gap, emanating from a high rate of conviction and many people awaiting trial. This has led to the growing demand for prison space, coupled with a loss of confidence in the quality of services provided to inmates by the federal government. Programs that have been designed to correct offenders have not demonstrated significant crime reduction and thus lost credibility with the public. There is a widespread belief that the government is not equipped to meet the challenges of 21st-century correction services (some will argue many other challenges).

The Nigerian government recently announced the construction of three additional correctional facilities with a capacity that can contain 3,000 inmates, with plans to expand to the 6 geographical zones in the country.  Overcrowding in prisons is one of the most daunting challenges confronting Nigeria’s justice system. The past decade has witnessed an almost doubling of the number of adults held at prison facilities across the country. The total prison population in the country is 65,688 people whilst the prisons have a combined capacity of 50,153 with an occupancy rate of 146.8% . You must be wondering where I am going with this…As an economist, whenever there is a disequilibrium between demand and supply, instincts kick in, “how can the private sector step in?”.

To adequately deal with this supply shortage, the government needs to enable the entry of the private sector. Yes, I’m talking privately owned prisons because it is doable and cost-effective. Privately owned prisons are not new; there has been a rise in private prisons in countries such as the U.S, UK, and other European countries since the 1980s. 

You might wonder how private prisons are run and how does a privately owned company legally incarcerate people. The goal of a private company is to maximize profit, unlike government-owned prisons. For private prisons to make money, they enter a private contract with the government, the contract will stipulate the amount the government will pay per inmate, this will presumably be at a lower cost than what it costs the government. We know it costs the government on average N1,500,000 per inmate annually, this includes feeding, constructing prisons, clothing, staffing, etc, a private prison with a capacity of 3000 inmates can offer its services to the government and charge N1,300,000 annually per inmate. The government will likely agree to this because it is at a lower cost and assuming the cost of incarcerating each inmate to the company is N1,200,000 they will make a profit of N100,000 per inmate, at full capacity of 3000 inmates that is a profit of N300,000,000 and a savings of N600,000,000 for the government annually. This leaves the government with the primary responsibilities of sentencing, assigning convicted prisoners to prisons and providing oversight leaving the business that goes with running the prison in the hands of the private company. 

History has proven time and time again that the private sector is more efficient at doing most things better than the government as eloquently stated by Friedman in the quote above in a way only he can. Privately owned prisons have better living conditions, are more cost-effective, and do a better job of correcting and rehabilitating inmates with a lower rate of repeat offenders compared to government-owned prisons hence killing two birds with one stone.

In the last 10 years alone, the government has allocated over half a trillion naira for the running of prisons. The privatization of our prisons will free up resources to be used for developmental purposes, think of it this way, would you rather your taxes are used to build schools, hospitals, roads, or new prisons?  Some will argue certain functions should not be privatized, that some functions are better left to the government. The truth is, there is no logic in government funding the building and maintaining of certain things, areas like prisons, investments in infrastructure like roads, rail, and airports should be left to the private sector. This will enable the government to focus on its primary business of providing a secure and safe environment for the people of Nigeria to thrive in their personal endeavours.