The prison industry in the United States is massive and growing. Since 1970, the number of incarcerated people in the U.S. has increased by 700 percent, to the point that the U.S. prison population is the largest in the world both per capita and in total numbers. As of 2019, there are an estimated 2.3 million people behind bars and 4.5 million people on probation or parole. The estimated cost of the U.S. mass incarceration system is $182 billion a year, with hundreds of private companies competing for government contracts.
The most visible and publicly debated corporate involvement in the prison industry is through private prisons, i.e. prisons that are owned, managed, or operated by private for-profit companies instead of by government agencies. As of 2019, an estimated 8.2 percent of people in U.S. federal and state prisons are incarcerated in private prisons, and nearly three-quarters of all people in immigration detention are held in privately-run facilities.
However, private prisons are just the tip of the iceberg for prison profiteering. Whether public or private, all prisons, jails, and immigration detention centers rely on for-profit companies for their operations, as nearly every aspect of the prison industry has been privatized to a certain degree. Therefore, our research into the prison industry covers the following areas of corporate involvement:
- Incarceration and Detention Facilities:
- Facility Management
- Youth and Family Detention
- Private Facilities Internationally - the only section that covers the prison industry outside the U.S.
- Private Prison Financing
- Transportation and Deportations
- Facility Surveillance and Security
- Prison Labor
- Services in Facilities:
- Communication Services
- Food, Commissary, and other Goods
- Health Services
- Banking and Financial Services
- Supervision and Monitoring:
While privatization is not the root cause of mass incarceration, the profit motive inherent in the prison industry has impacts for the entire system. The two largest private prison corporations, CoreCivic and GEO Group, spend substantial money on lobbying and campaign contributions to secure contracts and promote legislation that results in higher rates of incarceration and immigrant detention. Higher recidivism rates and longer periods of probation and parole are also in the best financial interest of these companies. As long as incarceration and other punishments are profitable, any effort to reduce the scope and impact of the criminal punishment system and end mass incarceration is likely to be undermined.
Our mapping of the private prison industry documents corporate involvement in the various aspects of the prison industry. The industry is comprised of hundreds of companies, many of which are small and privately-owned, and relatively few large, publicly-traded companies. Our database highlights and profiles the main publicly-traded companies in the industry. In addition, we hope to contribute to the larger movement to end mass incarceration by providing information on all profiteers, including the ones that are privately-owned.