You’ve got it sussed, Matt. Prison contracts are fertile ground for lobbying for PPPs and general privatisation. Unfortunately, prison privatisation is also global business (i.e. a handful of multinationals are all over it) and comes with a multitude of problems, not least of which is the profit motive of a private corporation. They’re not doing it for the public good!
This is insidious when compared to government-operated prisons — even with their faults and dumbness, at least in a UK/US/Australia government prison system there is/was a modicum of ‘state protection’ for guards and other workers who have the benefit and little perks of being in the public service. As you pointed out Matt, company employees/contractors don’t have this and will be continually screwed for wages and conditions (it’s a global thing too). What kind of incentive is there then but to attract half-descent employees who are no the kind you really want to be guarding prisoners? What incentive is there to invest in programs or processes that help prisoners to ‘reform’? Of course, anyone wanting to work in a prison has issues IMO anyway so in a way it’s like putting average psychos in charge of the extreme psychos (okay, there will also be some good people won’t have much of a choice and will take whatever job they can and make the best of it).
This is macabrely funny in Australia for example given its history of imported convicts since 1788 and the government’s sanctioning (if even by neglect) of inhuman treatment of too many Indigenous Australians who, while making up around 2% of the total population are over-represented at around 27% of the prison population (this has been an issue for decades and continues disgracefully even with children to this day).