Private Prisons

Drug Policy Question of the Week – 1-18-12

As answered by Mary Jane Borden, Editor of Drug War Facts for the Drug Truth Network on 1-18-12.

Question of the Week: What are private prisons?

Last week we talked about the number of people under control of the U.S. criminal justice system. As noted, tables based on data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the Prisons and Jails chapter of Drug War Facts show about 1.3 million people housed in state facilities in 2010.

Incarcerating all of those state prisoners cost approximately $51 billion in 2010 according to the National Association of State Budget Officers, almost 20% more than 2005. Further, according to the BJS, in 2010,

“Nineteen state systems were operating above their highest capacity, with seven states at least 25% over their highest capacity at yearend 2010, led by Alabama at 196% and Illinois at 144%.”

“… spending growth on corrections has slowed considerably due to widespread revenue shortfalls and limited resources,” said the NASBO.

What’s a cash-strapped state to do? One answer seems to lie in privately run prisons, now housing about 94,000 state inmates who represent nearly 7% of all state prisoners and an increase in the prisoner count of about 31% over the year 2000.

The American Civil Liberties Union confirmed that,

“Private prisons for adults were virtually non-existent until the early 1980s, but the number of prisoners in private prisons increased by approximately 1600% between 1990 and 2009. Today, for-profit companies are responsible for approximately 6% of state prisoners, 16% of federal prisoners, and, according to one report, nearly half of all immigrants detained by the federal government. In 2010, the two largest private prison companies [Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group [then called Wackenhut Corrections Corporation] alone received nearly $3 billion dollars in revenue”

These facts and others like them can be found in the Prisons and Jails Chapters of Drug War Facts at