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PLN managing editor files ethics complaint re Temple University private prison study

Philadephia Weekly, Jan. 1, 2014.
PLN managing editor files ethics complaint re Temple University private prison study - Philadephia Weekly 2014

Jan 13, 2014 by Randy LoBasso

Why did an ex-con file an ethics complaint with Temple?

When Alex Friedmann, the editor of Prison Legal News, read Temple University’s Center for Competitive Government’s press release last spring touting a new study regarding the benefits of private prisons, he was a bit surprised. The study found that private, contracted prisons have a “long-run savings of 12 percent to 58 percent when comparing private and public” prison facilities, and they are able to “generate significant savings without sacrificing quality.”

Friedmann, himself a former prisoner in a private facility, was perplexed because every other study he’d reviewed on the topic — including reports from Arizona’s auditor general and the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance — had found otherwise.

Then he came to the very last line of Temple’s press release, which noted, in part: “The study received funding by members of the private corrections industry.”

As the social-justice magazine In These Times points out on Friday, that little detail “inspired questions, to say the least.”

Friedman filed an ethics complaint with Temple with the Human Rights Defense Center in June. It’s a clear problem, he tells Philadelphia Weekly, when the private prison industry (or any industry) funds academia for its own purposes.

In an email, he cites other sporadic instances where it’s happened: “A Vanderbilt study in 2008, a Harvard Law Review article in 2002, various reports by the Reason Foundation — all funded by or connected with the private prison industry,” he says. “I wouldn’t call it a trend, but rather an ongoing, deliberate strategy by private prison companies to solicit and fund research that supports their talking points. This is akin to the Tobacco Institute funding research that found smoking isn’t bad for you, doesn’t cause cancer, etc.”

Industry-funded studies, he notes, “provide a veneer of respectability — an academic gloss — to the self-serving claims of private prison companies, such as cost savings and competence, when the realities of prison privatization demonstrate otherwise.”

Friedmann says he tries to send Michele Masucci, Temple’s Vice Provost for Research, an email regarding his complaint “about once a month.” Masucci responded to In These Times’ inquiry about the complaint: “In order to protect the integrity of the review process including the rights of all individuals involved, we cannot share the status of ongoing investigations.”