Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
To Serve and Protect

To Serve and Protect: Privatization and Community in Criminal Justice

Bruce L. Benson
Foreword by Marvin E. Wolfgang
Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 400
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    To Serve and Protect
    Book Description:

    In contrast to government's predominant role in criminal justice today, for many centuries crime control was almost entirely private and community-based. Government police forces, prosecutors, courts, and prisons are all recent historical developments-results of a political and bureaucratic social experiment which, Bruce Benson argues, neither protects the innocent nor dispenses justice.In this comprehensive and timely book, Benson analyzes the accelerating trend toward privatization in the criminal justice system. In so doing, To Serve and Protect challenges and transcends both liberal and conservative policies that have supported government's pervasive role. With lucidity and rigor, he examines the gamut of private-sector input to criminal justice-from private-sector outsourcing of prisons and corrections, security, arbitration to full "private justice" such as business and community-imposed sanctions and citizen crime prevention. Searching for the most cost-effective methods of reducing crime and protecting civil liberties, Benson weighs the benefits and liabilities of various levels of privatization, offering correctives for the current gridlock that will make criminal justice truly accountable to the citizenry and will simultaneously result in reductions in the unchecked power of government.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2305-0
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
    Marvin E. Wolfgang

    Like most of my colleagues in criminology, and like many of my lay friends, I have been fearful about and fascinated with the prospect of privatization of prisons, or of any other aspects of the criminal justice system. Part of that hesitant concern for privatizing what has long but not always been under public domain was rooted in the scattered history of vigilantism, nineteenth-century convict labor, Georgia chain gangs, Wild West frontier gun-toting justice, corruption among cops, and bribery of legislators and judges.

    Although aware of what I have felt to be an increasing encroachment by government on my personal...

  4. Preface: Why the Timing Might Be Right
    (pp. xix-xxiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxv-xxviii)
  6. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Questions about crime policy are almost inevitably stated in a fashion that immediately eliminates a huge number of potential options. The question typically asked is “What should the government do to solve the crime problem?” But there are other ways to solve problems. As Israel M. Kirzner (1997: 62) explains, for instance, entrepreneurial discovery of opportunities gradually and systematically pushes back the boundaries of ignorance, thereby driving down costs and prices while increasing both the quantity and quality of output. In the public sector’s production of crime control, ignorance abounds, costs are high and rising, and both the quality and...

  7. I Private Inputs for Public Crime Control

    • 2 Partial Privatization: The Level and Scope of Contracting Out in Criminal Justice
      (pp. 15-25)

      The termprivatizationis often used as a synonym for contracting out with a private firm for the production of some good or service that was previously exclusively produced by a public-sector agency or bureaucracy. But contracting out is, at most, only partial or incomplete privatization. The determination of what is going to be demanded from and produced by the firm under contract remains in the political arena, under the influence of interest groups and public officials rather than under the direct control of private citizens acting as individual buyers. Complete privatization in criminal justice involves private-sector control over all...

    • 3 Potential Benefits and Pitfalls of Contracting Out for Criminal Justice
      (pp. 26-49)

      Why should there be any difference between the quality and costs of services provided by private firms and public bureaus?¹ The Institute for Local Self Government has dismissed contracting out for full police services as infeasible, because “there are no secret methods, known only to the private sector, of running an entire police department” (quoted in Poole 1983b: 10). But the relevant issue is not knowledge or even desire; the fact is that theincentivesof public bureaucrats are very different from those of private producers (Benson 1995c). As Fitch explains:

      In a market system dominated by private enterprise, the...

    • 4 Private Inputs into “Public” Arrest and Prosecution: Vital but Reluctant Victims and Witnesses
      (pp. 50-72)

      According to a recent Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) victimization survey (1993), only about 39 percent of all Index I crimes (murder and manslaughter, sexual offenses, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, larceny, and auto theft) are reported in the United States. About 50 percent of the victims of violent crimes report the crime, compared to 41 percent for household crimes, 92 percent for motor vehicle theft, and 15 percent for the crimes of larceny resulting in losses of less than $50. For consensual crimes such as prostitution, gambling, and illicit drug market activity, the likelihood of reporting is probably even lower,...

  8. II Private Crime Control

    • 5 The Level and Scope of Private Production of Crime Prevention and Protection
      (pp. 75-93)

      Lawrence W. Sherman points out that “[f]ew developments are more indicative of public concern about crime—and declining faith in the ability of public institutions to cope with it—than the burgeoning growth in private policing…. Rather than approving funds for more police, the voters have turned to volunteer and paid private watchers” (1983: 145–49). But private responses to crime have gone well beyond voluntary participation in watching and hiring guards (Clotfelter 1977: 868) to include the increased use of alarm systems, safes, window bars, and other protection devices. Private-sector involvement in crime control is clearly quite substantial, but...

    • 6 Private Justice in America: Historical Precedent and Modern Reality
      (pp. 94-126)

      The high cost of cooperating with police and prosecutors and the diminishing benefits of such cooperation inevitably lead to the development of extrajudicial processes and “self-help” procedures (Nader and Todd 1978: 38), or private justice. Private justice consists of “the localized nonstate systems of administering and sanctioning individuals accused of rule breaking or disputing” (Henry 1987: 45–46), and it has a long and frequently misunderstood history in the United States. Vigilante behavior is a part of our American tradition, for instance, but in contrast to the widespread characterization of vigilantism as “lynch-mob rule,” vigilantes almost always were law-abiding citizens...

    • 7 The Benefits of Privatization: Theory and Evidence
      (pp. 127-168)

      The rapid growth of private-sector efforts to prevent crimes and to resolve them once they are committed suggests that these private alternatives must be generating considerable benefits relative to the alternative of investing more in the public criminal justice system.¹ Of course, there may also be undesirable consequences of privatization, as suggested by the discussion of some of the characteristics of private justice (although they arise, in part at least, because such vigilante actions are treated as illegal, forcing those taking them to attempt to avoid detection). And markets are certainly not perfect, as advocates of public production always stress...

    • 8 Alleged Market Failures in a Privatized System of Criminal Justice: Are They Valid?
      (pp. 169-192)

      A number of arguments against privatization of law enforcement are in fact arguments commonly raised against market processes in general. They are arguments made by lobbyists and other policy advocates, including bureaucrats and public-sector union representatives, who oppose privatization of an existing government activity or who want to develop some new government program. Such individuals either do not understand the way competitive markets work; or they refuse to believe that they work the way they do; or they know perfectly well that their arguments are not valid, but they make them anyway because they are effective in the political arena,...

  9. III Policy Analysis and Recommendations:: From a Privatized System of Crime Control to Government Domination, and How to Get Back Again

    • 9 Why Is the Public Sector So Involved with Criminal Law Today? A Theoretical and Historical Analysis
      (pp. 195-226)

      In order to understand why the modern criminal justice system relies so heavily on the public sector for policing, prosecution, and punishment, we must look back in history.¹ We must begin centuries ago in England, since the basic institutional arrangements of the American legal system were inherited from the British system. The chain of reactions to actions taken by English kings as they began to concentrate and centralize power will be traced to their modern consequences. In particular, development of monarchical government led to the creation of criminal law as a source of royal revenues, and this criminalization took away...

    • 10 Restitution in a Rights-Based Approach to Crime Policy: Individual Responsibility and Justice for Victims
      (pp. 227-259)

      Gary W. Bornman, a bank robber serving a seven-year sentence in the Federal Correctional Institute in Marianna, Florida, writes in a very powerful letter to theTallahassee Democrat:

      I’m sure when a rape victim is being raped she doesn’t care if her attacker was an abused child. By allowing this blame-laying, we’re telling the rest of society that it’s OK to rob and murder as long as you have a good excuse. What happened to taking responsibility for one’s own actions?

      As someone who has spent the better part of his life behind bars, I’ve never run into a guilty...

    • 11 Encouraging Effective Privatization in Criminal Justice, Part I: Prevention and Pursuit
      (pp. 260-284)

      Restitution for victims is much more likely to be the focus of a privatized criminal justice system than of a system dominated by public policing, prosecution, and corrections personnel. Therefore, from the normative perspective of liberty and justice, privatization is desirable. Of course, making such changes will not be easy for politicians, even if they happen to accept the argument. As Fixler and Poole explain,

      perhaps the greatest political barrier to privatizing police services [and other aspects of the criminal justice system] is that of union opposition. As shown in the Reminderville and Oro Valley [and San Francisco and other]...

    • 12 Encouraging Effective Privatization in Criminal Justice, Part II: Prosecution and Punishment
      (pp. 285-318)

      Recognition of the already massive private investments being made in crime prevention may be sufficient to convince many people that much of the burden of observation to prevent crimes can be handled by the private sector. Similarly, after one recognizes how reluctant victims and witnesses are to get involved with the criminal justice system, the contention that reporting can best be increased by encouraging more participation by that vital private-sector input may appear to be quite reasonable. Many people may also need very little convincing to accept the idea that at least some additional privatization can facilitate arrest (e.g., contracting...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 319-332)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 333-358)
  12. Index
    (pp. 359-371)
  13. About the Author
    (pp. 372-372)