While the nation’s unprecedented rate of imprisonment deprives individuals of freedom, wrests loved ones from their families, and drains the resources of governments, communities, and taxpayers, the private prison industry reaps lucrative rewards. As the public good suffers from mass incarceration, private prison companies obtain more and more government dollars, and private prison executives at the leading companies rake in enormous compensation packages. Private prison companies essentially admit that their business model depends on locking up more and more people. The American economy should not include locking people in cages for profit.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, for-profit companies were responsible for approximately 7 percent of state prisoners and 18 percent of federal prisoners in 2015 (the most recent numbers currently available). U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported that in 2016, private prisons held nearly three-quarters of federal immigration detainees. Private prisons also hold an unknown percentage of people held in local jails in Texas, Louisiana, and a handful of other states. While supporters of private prisons tout the idea that governments can save money through privatization, the evidence is mixed at best—in fact, private prisons may in some instances cost more than governmental ones. These private prisons have also been linked to numerous cases of violence and atrocious conditions.