Let's say I'm convicted of a felony and sent to state prison. Then, I buy the prison.

Can I just let myself out?

  • 88
    You may be surpised to learn this, but prison owners aren't the ones deciding who stays in prison.
    – bdb484
    Nov 5, 2020 at 3:11
  • 35
    If you have enough money to buy a prison, you're not going to be sent to prison in the US. Nov 5, 2020 at 12:24
  • 29
    @Studoku Bernie Madoff could easily afford a prison
    – Strawberry
    Nov 5, 2020 at 12:53
  • 12
    Similar but not exactly the same, Pablo Escobar's La Catedral prison was built by Escobar to imprison him, and was basically a fortress surrounding a palace. He made a prior agreement with the Columbian government though. Nov 5, 2020 at 15:16
  • 8
    They can't let themselves out, but they probably can ensure they're not mistreated by the guards, and trade on that influence with other prisoners.
    – Barmar
    Nov 5, 2020 at 15:19

1 Answer 1


Not legally. Private prisons are operated under a government mandate (typically via a contract with the government).

That said, depending on jurisdiction, there are plenty of scenarios where a prisoner is legally permitted to leave a prison. This can include work release programs, work details controlled by the prison, to visit sick or ill relatives, as part of a rehabilitation program (e.g., to attend an education program), etc.

How much of these forms of release can be manipulated by a private prison likely varies by jurisdiction. Of course, some of the relevant decision makers may have a preference for keeping the prison owner happy, even if the owner has no direct influence.

Mind you, it is probably difficult to get into such a position. I suspect a prison operator would not be sent to their own prison (and would not want to be; prisoners might attack them). Similarly, the government would probably block a jailed felon from taking ownership of their own prison.

  • 1
    I'd be very surprised if a prison owner got sent to the most wanton "gen-pop" area of his own prison in this case. It is a crazy hypothetical - but hte prison can of course decide where in the prison to put a particular prisoner. Wing A is for the owner, Wing B is for the rest... They can also waive any self imposed arrival procedures. The owner gets to keep his shivs, so to say.
    – Stian
    Nov 5, 2020 at 11:36
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    @StianYttervik There's also a subtle, but important, difference between a guy who owns a prison being sent to his own prison and the scenario OP described: of a prisoner taking ownership of the prison he's already in. Setting aside the question of whether the law would allow this, of course. In the latter case, he was a prisoner first, and depending on his existing relationships with other prisoners (and his willingness to do them favours) the purchase of the prison could make him better liked rather than hated. The underdog is taking power, rather than the powerful being exposed.
    – Steve-O
    Nov 5, 2020 at 14:39
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    Let's say a billionaire goes to prison for some white-collar crime. He doesn't like the food. Buys the prison, improves the food. Probably wouldn't be attacked for that action.
    – JimmyJames
    Nov 5, 2020 at 18:04
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    Prisoners who get to leave prisons for parole, for example, must pass an exam/interview with a state (or federal) review board... even if the prison is a private one. Studies have shown that prisoners in private prisons have longer sentences because they incur more infractions due to private prison staff being less trained and less well-paid compared to state prisons.
    – TylerH
    Nov 5, 2020 at 19:15
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    @TylerH Ah, great, add it to the pile of why private prisons suck more than regular pirsons. Nov 6, 2020 at 4:37

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