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For-Profit Prisons

- October 19, 2018
Should companies be in the incarceration business?
Featured Report

The for-profit prison industry in the United States is growing at a time when the inmate population is declining. Critics argue that corporate-run prisons pose more safety problems than public ones, saying the companies hire fewer guards and cut costs to make money. Lawsuits by inmates and civil rights groups allege that cost-cutting is leading to dangerous prison conditions and poor medical care. But the industry and its supporters say private prisons are as safe as government-run facilities and that privatization helps governments avoid overcrowding and save money. The Obama administration in 2016 began phasing out private federal prisons, but President Trump reversed course a year later. Meanwhile, companies are playing a greater role in the detention of undocumented immigrants, drawing criticism from civil rights groups and some communities where private detention facilities are located. Immigrant-rights groups say the prison industry is encouraging the Trump administration's crackdown on illegal immigration — a charge the companies deny.

Potential Changes

Major prison companies are expanding their real estate investments.

Government Activity

Legislation to lower the incarceration rate faces congressional hurdles.

Legal Challenges

Immigrant detainees are suing GEO and CoreCivic over their treatment.

1790s–1930sSolitary confinement, inmate labor hallmarks of first prisons.
1950s–1970sInmates riot to protest prison conditions.
1980s–1990sTougher sentencing laws spur prison construction boom.
2000s–PresentStates seek ways to cut budgets and reduce incarceration rates.

Should private industry play a role in prison operations?


Marc Levin
Vice President, Criminal Justice, Texas Public Policy Foundation.


David C. Fathi
Director, National Prison Project, American Civil Liberties Union.


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