Reports and campaigns
Data visualizations
Contracts database
Related issues
Research library

Incarcerated people and their families are literally a captive market that private companies — with the collusion of the facilities — are all too eager to exploit. We are bringing these practices to light and fighting back.

Below is some of our key research and organizing:

Reports and campaigns

Report thumbnail for Shadow Budgets report Shadow Budgets: How mass incarceration steals from the poor to give to the prison

Revenues from communication fees, commissary purchases, disciplinary fines, and more flow into “Inmate Welfare Funds” meant to benefit incarcerated populations. However, our analysis reveals that they are used more like slush funds that, in many cases, make society’s most vulnerable people pay for prison operations, staff salaries, benefits, and more.

Report thumbnail for SMH report SMH: The rapid & unregulated growth of e-messaging in prisons

A technology that, until recently, was new in prisons and jails has exploded in popularity in recent years. Our review found that, despite its potential to keep incarcerated people and their families connected, e-messaging has quickly become just another way for companies to profit at their expense.

report thumbnailRegulating the prison and jail phone industry

Incarcerated people and their families often have to pay $1/minute or more for a phone call. Why? Because prisons and jails profit by granting monopoly telephone contracts to the company that will charge families the most.

report thumbnailProtecting in-person visits from the predatory "video calling" industry

We uncover how jails collude with telecom companies to eliminate human contact, by replacing in-person visits with expensive, low-quality video chats. Our research and campaign has achieved a number of important victories.

report thumbnailThe Company Store: A Deeper Look at Prison Commissaries

When prisons fail to provide adequate food and other basics, the commissary — which is often run by a private company — is the only option. We use state data to assess what people are buying at prison commissaries and how much they pay.

report thumbnailThe Wireless Prison: How Colorado's tablet computer program misses opportunities and monetizes the poor

Telecom companies are marketing tablets to prisons and jails. Our report evaluates Colorado's "prison tablet" contract, uncovering hidden fees and shoddy services.

report thumbnailRelease Cards

Prisons have traditionally given people a cash or check upon release, to repay them for money they received or earned while serving their sentence. Now prisons are increasingly giving people mandatory — and fee-riddled — prepaid cards.

report thumbnailThe Company Store and the Literally Captive Market: Consumer Law in Prisons and Jails

How are consumer rights and protections different for people behind bars? Find out in this deep dive from the Prison Policy Initiative's Stephen Raher. (See also our summary of Stephen's article.)


issue thumbnailThe big picture

Exactly how many people are incarcerated in the U.S., and how many are held in private facilities? Get the answers with our report Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie and other big-picture research.

issue thumbnailPoverty and debt

Exploitation in prisons and jails frequently falls on poor people, who are overrepresented in the justice system. Read about how the criminal justice system effectively punishes people for being poor.

Research Library

Didn't find what you were looking for? We also curate a database of virtually all the empirical criminal justice research available online. See the sections of our Research Library on privatization and the economics of incarceration.

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