Capitalizing on Mass Incarceration: U.S. Growth in Private Prisons

Private prisons are only about 7% of the US prison industry. Most prisons are government-run prisons. The problem I have with most leftist critiques of the US prison system is that they tend to predictably blame everything on capitalist profiteering and/or racism. While those are obviously part of the story, they’re far from being the whole story. First, the large number of minorities who have been enthusiastic perpetrators of mass incarceration has to be considered. See here, here, and here. Additionally, the prison system is for the most part a public sector enterprise of the kind that leftists frequently favor. Private prisons are also funded by tax money, although government-run prisons are also big business for construction companies, prison guards, and all those companies invested in it.

By Kara Gotsch and Vinay Basti, Sentencing Project

The introduction of profit incentives into the country’s incarceration buildup crosses a troubling line that puts financial gain above the public interest of safety and rehabilitation.

The War on Drugs and harsher sentencing policies, including mandatory minimum sentences, fueled a rapid expansion in the nation’s prison population beginning in the 1980s. The resulting burden on the public sector led to the modern emergence of for-profit private prisons in many states and at the federal level.

Table of Contents

  1. Overview
  2. Trends in Privatization
  3. Challenges of Private Prisons
  4. Private Contractors and their Expanding Reach
  5. Recommendations
  6. Appendix: State Profiles in Prison Privatization


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