- Market rationality suffuses many areas of modern criminal justice. Prison privatization is one area in which market rationality is particularly salient. This paper presents a case study of how market rationality was deployed in public discourse on prison privatization. It answers four questions: (1) Who shaped public discourse on prison privatization?, (2) How frequently were market-rational themes invoked in the public discourse?, (3) Who employed (and who avoided) market-rational themes in the discourse?, and (4) Why did rates of market-rational discourse change over time? To answer these questions, the paper analyzes public discourse in four major American newspapers from 1985 to 2008. It employs a series of descriptive statistics and regression analyses, as well as an underutilized method--formal decomposition analysis. The research contributes to historical knowledge of the development of prison privatization; methodological techniques for analyzing textual data; and theoretical understanding of how public actors engage in discursive struggles over the meaning of criminal justice policies.