Many in Arkansas are cheering the state’s political evolution to be more like Mississippi in Republican control. That may be inevitable. But I hope it comes with fewer of the predictable side effects.

Eat breakfast before reading the New York Times account of gruesome conditions in the privately run Mississippi prison for inmates with mental illness. 


The 1,362-bed facility is one of five private prisons in the state system; Mississippi, like other states, has turned to private operators to cut costs. But advocacy groups that oppose the trend say the for-profit companies often economize at the expense of inmate and public safety. They point to private prisons in several states that have had problems with violence, abuse or escapes that official reports attributed to understaffing, lax security and poorly trained corrections officers.

Arkansas once turned down that road, then reversed course after problems of its own with private operators. The economy inevitably proves illusory. In the meanwhile, public officials are insulated from inhumane treatment and other failures of their contractors. It’s a message that resonates beyond prisons, be it health insurance, education or many other endeavors. Public programs are too important be farmed out beyond ready accountability. And it’s a pipe dream to believe that a private operator hoping to earn a healthy profit margin is going to produce a better service for less without shorting someone.

The video above comes from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU, which have filed a federal lawsuit over conditions in Mississippi.