Overflowing U.S. Private Prisons, by the Numbers (w/Infographic)

By Joe Wright

The predatory corporate prison enterprise aims to privatize profits and socialize losses. This combination has led to a situation where correctional facilities have only one incentive: ensure that new bodies arrive as fast as possible, and keep them in a state of indentured servitude for as long as possible.

As you’ll see in the infographic below, the bodies are indeed arriving quickly to fill the coffers of those who are reaping massive profit from caging as much of the public as they can get away with. Thirty-seven states have signed onto this system which promotes a dangerous mutually beneficial relationship between government and corporations. A closer look reveals that it is definitely not beneficial for ordinary citizens and the communities which house these prisons.

America already holds 25% of the world’s prison population, with the number of these prisoners held in private prisons rising 20-fold in the last decade. As the economy declines, there are new opportunities presented by reintroducing debtors prisons, formally abolished in the early 1800s.

Perhaps more troubling is the heightened criminalization of children for behavior which previously was considered merely a nuisance, not something worthy of handcuffs and the big house. The trend is clearly toward making nearly every activity a potential prison-worthy crime.

As you will also see, there is an additional financial bonus that goes beyond the direct incentives to the corporate prison owners for adding bodies. It’s a de facto slave labor pool for the military-industrial complex and other corporate interests.

For those who might be inclined to argue that it’s a form of justice that a predatory system is only targeting other predators, the rise of private prisons is not making our communities any safer. In fact, if we look at the case study of Louisiana, which is the world’s prison capital – and also #1 in for-profit prisons, incidentally – we see nothing but an increase in social decay at every level.

In a comprehensive, must-read article for the Times-Picayune of New Orleans, Cindy Chang writes:

In the past two decades, Louisiana’s prison population has doubled, costing taxpayers billions while New Orleans continues to lead the nation in homicides.

With the highest percentage of its citizens locked up in a for-profit system, Louisiana should be a safe, economically prosperous state if this model is effective in removing all of the bad elements that threaten society. What we see is the exact opposite: Louisiana is one of the most poverty stricken, uneducated, and dangerous states in the union. The next generation is effectively punished as well by having one or both parents locked away, while the funding needed to potentially break the cycle is diverted toward building more prisons.

Louisiana is a canary in the coal mine for this predatory system and its expansion across the United States. A nation that still purports to be the Land of the Free becomes a mockery of freedom when it has literally invested in slavery.

This system is already beginning to overflow – with profits for the slave masters, and increasingly unjust and inhumane conditions for anyone they deem to have more value as a slave than as a free citizen.

Privatization of the US Prison System. An Infographic from


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