Over the past four decades, imprisonment in the United States has increased explosively, spurred by criminal laws that put more people in prison for longer sentences. At the same time, the nation has seen the rise of for-profit prison companies, which benefit from keeping more people locked up.
REPORT: Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration
(2011 Report): The imprisonment of human beings at record levels is both a moral failure and an economic one—especially at a time when more and more Americans are struggling to make ends meet and when state governments confront enormous fiscal crises. This report finds, however, that mass incarceration provides a gigantic windfall for one special interest group—the private prison industry—even as current incarceration levels harm the country as a whole. Read the Report »
The current incarceration rate deprives record numbers of individuals of their liberty, disproportionately affects people of color, and has at best a minimal effect on public safety. Meanwhile, the crippling cost of imprisoning increasing numbers of Americans saddles government budgets with rising debt and exacerbates the current fiscal crisis confronting states across the nation.
Private prison companies, however, essentially admit that their business model depends on locking up more and more people. For example, in a 2010 Annual Report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) stated: “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by . . . leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices . . . .” As incarceration rates skyrocket, the private prison industry expands at exponential rates, holding ever more people in its prisons and jails, and generating massive profits.
And while supporters of private prisons tout the idea that governments can save money through privatization, the evidence that private prisons save taxpayer money is mixed at best – in fact, private prisons may in some instances cost more than governmental ones. Private prisons have also been linked to numerous cases of violence and atrocious conditions.
Warehoused and Forgotten: Immigrants Trapped in Our Shadow Private Prison System (2014 Report): More than 25,000 low-security non-U.S. citizens languish at thirteen private prisons like Willacy under Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) contracts. For years, these for-profit prisons have been able to operate in the shadows, effectively free from public scrutiny.
Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration (2011 Report): The imprisonment of human beings at record levels is both a moral failure and an economic one—especially at a time when more and more Americans are struggling to make ends meet and when state governments confront enormous fiscal crises. This report finds, however, that mass incarceration provides a gigantic windfall for one special interest group—the private prison industry—even as current incarceration levels harm the country as a whole.
Multimedia & Infographics
VIDEO SERIES: Prison Profiteers: A video series profiling the powerful companies and individuals who are profiting off locking up too many people for too long.
VIDEO: The Private Prison Problem: This video shows the brutal beating of 24 year-old inmate Hanni Elabed by another inmate at privately-run the Idaho Correctional Center (ICC).
MAP: Sexual Abuse in Immigration Detention Facilities (2011 map): A state-by-state picture of allegations of sexual abuse in immigration detention facilities.
ACLU Letter to Governors Urging Rejection of CCA Offer (2012): Signed by organizations including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, The Sentencing Project, the NAACP and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Dockery v. Epps: The ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Law Offices of Elizabeth Alexander filed a petition for class certification and expert reports for a federal lawsuit on behalf of prisoners at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility (EMCF). The lawsuit, which was filed in May 2013, describes the for-profit prison as hyper-violent, grotesquely filthy and dangerous. EMCF is operated "in a perpetual state of crisis" where prisoners are at "grave risk of death and loss of limbs." The facility, located in Meridian, Mississippi, is supposed to provide intensive treatment to the state's prisoners with serious psychiatric disabilities, many of whom are locked down in long-term solitary confinement.
C.B, et al. v. Walnut Grove: A lawsuit charging conditions at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility, where children were subjected to brutal conditions and solitary confinement, were unconstitutional. As a result, children will no longer be housed at Walnut Grove, operated by the for-profit GEO Group.
Minneci v. Pollard: A Supreme Court case considering whether private prison officials can be sued for violating the constitutional rights of federal prisoners.