For-Profit Prisons

October 19, 2018 • Volume 28, Issue 37
Should companies be in the incarceration business?
By Christina L. Lyons


A GEO Group guard stands watch at an immigrant detention center in Tacoma, Wash. (Cover: AP Photo/Ted S. Warner)
A GEO Group guard stands watch at an immigrant detention center in Tacoma, Wash., in June 2017. The company is the for-profit prison industry's largest. Prison companies have faced criticism over inmate safety and health concerns, but the industry says its record is comparable to that of government facilities. (Cover: AP Photo/Ted S. Warner)

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.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Apr. 12, 2019  Bail Reform
Oct. 19, 2018  For-Profit Prisons
Mar. 03, 2017  Women in Prison
Jan. 10, 2014  Sentencing Reform
Sep. 14, 2012  Solitary Confinement
Mar. 11, 2011  Downsizing Prisons
Dec. 04, 2009  Prisoner Reentry
Apr. 06, 2007  Prison Reform
Jan. 05, 2007  Prison Health Care
Sep. 17, 1999  Prison-Building Boom
Feb. 04, 1994  Prison Overcrowding
Oct. 20, 1989  Crime and Punishment: a Tenuous Link
Aug. 04, 1989  Can Prisons Rehabilitate Criminals?
Aug. 07, 1987  Prison Crowding
Nov. 25, 1983  Prison Overcrowding
Feb. 26, 1982  Religious Groups and Prison Reform
Jun. 18, 1976  Criminal Release System
Mar. 12, 1976  Reappraisal of Prison Policy
Oct. 20, 1971  Racial Tensions in Prisons
Oct. 13, 1965  Rehabilitation of Prisoners
Oct. 09, 1957  Prisons and Parole
May 02, 1952  Penal Reform
Jan. 30, 1937  The Future of Prison Industry
May 08, 1930  Prison Conditions and Penal Reform
Aging Issues
Crime and Law Enforcement
Criminal Law Procedure and Due Process
Domestic Issues
Elderly Health Issues
Federal Courts
General Employment and Labor
Immigration and Naturalization
Labor Standards and Practices
Men's Health Issues
Outsourcing and Immigration
Population Control
Privatization of Government Functions
Protest Movements
Regulation and Deregulation
Sentencing and Corrections
Workplace Safety and Worker's Compensation