Is The Pentagon Getting Into The Private Prison Business?

Hard times spark creativity, especially when it comes to saving money. Even the US military, easily the best-funded arm of American government, has lately been brainstorming some “out of the box” ideas to fund its indefinite overseas adventures.

Here is the problem, as described by some business-management students at the Navy Supply Corps School:

With the U.S. Armed Forces facing extreme fiscal restrictions that may limit its ability to remain the most dominant military in the world, leadership must consider extreme actions to generate revenue…

What sort of “extreme actions” do the officers propose? Well, like many a cash-strapped homeowner, the Pentagon could consider bringing in a new tenant or two.

The US military controls 28.5 million acres of land around the world. That’s an area roughly the size of the state of Virginia.*

And, would you believe it, only 10 percent of that real estate has been privatized!

The study suggests more military land could be leased and put to use as bowling alleys, car washes, solar-energy farms and football stadiums (which can, in the event, can double as “disaster relief facilities.” That’s Qualcomm Stadium in San Deigo, California, pictured during the massive wildfires of 2007).

But what could turn out to be the most lucrative leasing idea targets a perpetual growth market: Prisons.

Defense Department property could offer an “affordable alternative” to private prison operators looking to expand, the study says. The authors name-check some of that industry’s biggest players, including “Corrections Corporation of America, the GEO Group and Cornell Companies.”

The study brushes aside any controversy such an arrangement might inspire.

Prisons on DOD installations are nothing new. Likewise privatized prisons have become an accepted concept in many states over the last 25 years…

Leasing DOD lands to privatized prisons could provide substantial revenue for the DOD, relieve prison overcrowding and cut costs to tax payers. At just $1,000 per inmate, the program could net as estimated $3.2M annually.

So, are civilian prisons coming to a military base near you any time soon? Maybe. “Texas and California have the largest DOD land holdings and both have significant prison overcrowding problems,” the report says.

Source: Navy Supply Corps School, Tench Francis School of Business, “Generating Revenue for DOD Operations” (pdf)

* An earlier version of this post contained an embarrassing math error that overstated this area by a factor of 10.