April 07, 2017

A prison cell in Alcatraz. Credit: Dave Nakayama / Flickr Creative Commons

In the past forty years, our prison population has increased by 500 percent. And a private prison industry has grown along with it. When the war on drugs started swelling our prisons back in the 1980s, a couple of entrepreneurs saw an opportunity. Since then, local and federal governments have incorporated private prisons into their criminal justice systems. States house about 7 percent of their inmates in private facilities. The federal system houses about eighteen percent.

Lauren-Brooke Eisen - senior counsel at NYU Law’s Brennan Center for Justice - and Marc Mauer - Executive Director of The Sentencing Project and author of Race to Incarcerate - say that we should view this trend more skeptically.

Three Takeaways

  • Two of the largest private prison companies - CoreCivic and the GEO Group - are publicly traded. Last year, they raked in about 4 billion dollars in revenue. “That’s more than Airbnb, Snapchat, Pandora, and the Dallas Cowboys combined,” says Eisen. 
  • Are private prisons cheaper than government-run prisons? Well, the numbers aren’t promising. “There’s no significant difference [in price],” says Mauer. “Sometimes they’re a little cheaper, sometimes they’re a little more expensive. It’s more or less the same.” 
  • Over fifty percent of civil detention centers are run by private prisons, and the number is growing. “A lot of people are concerned that the footprint of private contractors will grow in terms of operating and building more of these facilities,” Eisen explains.

More Reading

Business, Lauren-Brooke Eisen, Marc Mauer, private prisons, Kara Miller

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