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On this page, the Prison Policy Initiative has curated all of the research that we know of about privatization in the criminal legal system. You can also see a selection of our best original research on exploitation in the criminal legal system on our Exploitation page. For research on other criminal justice topics, see our Research Library homepage.

  • Show me the money: Tracking the companies that have a lock on sending funds to incarcerated people Prison Policy Initiative, November, 2021“We looked at all fifty state departments of corrections to figure out which companies hold the contracts to provide money-transfer services and what the fees are to use these services.”
  • Police Foundations: A Corporate-Sponsored Threat to Democracy and Black Lives Color of Change and LittleSis, October, 2021“[We] have compiled the most extensive research to date on the links between police foundations and corporations, identifying over 1,200 corporate donations or executives serving as board members for 23 of the largest police foundations in the country.”
  • Electronic Prisons: The Operation of Ankle Monitoring in the Criminal Legal System Kate Weisburd et al., September, 2021“Monitoring and its attendant rules significantly burden basic rights, liberty and dignity.”
  • Bloody Lucre: Carceral Labor and Prison Profit Laura I. Appleman, August, 2021“The economic exploitation that occurs with most inmate labor is doubly troubling in times of emergency or disaster, where often prisoners' health, safety, and even life is risked to ensure cost-savings on the part of governments or private industry.”
  • No Kickbacks Parole Illinois, June, 2021“Through its "surcharges", "kickbacks", and denial of basic necessities, the IDOC is effectively siphoning millions of dollars from largely low income communities by preying on people's love for their incarcerated friend or family member.”
  • What families can expect to be charged under the new FCC rules Prison Policy Initiative, June, 2021“A new order from the Federal Communications Commission lowers existing caps on rates and fees in the prison and jail telephone industry.”
  • It's all about the incentives: Why a call home from a jail in New York State can cost 7 times more than the same call from the state's prisons Prison Policy Initiative, March, 2021“These exorbitant phone rates cost some the poorest residents of New York State -- and a group disproportionately made up of women of color -- more than $13 million a year just to talk to their jailed loved ones.”
  • People in jails are using more phone minutes during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite decreased jail populations Prison Policy Initiative, January, 2021“Our study of 14 jails finds that there were 8% more overall minutes used during the pandemic, despite the fact that nationwide jail populations have fallen about 15%.”
  • The Accreditation Con: A Broken Prison and Detention Facility Accreditation System That Puts Profits Over People Office of Senator Elizabeth Warren, December, 2020“It reveals that the ACA's private prison accreditation system is riddled with conflicts of interest, lacks transparency, and is subject to zero accountability even though millions in taxpayer dollars to flow to the ACA and private prison companies.”
  • The Prison Industry: How It Started, How It Works, How It Harms Worth Rises, December, 2020“This report maps the twelve sectors of the prison industry and details the extraction of wealth from the families that have been most disproportionately brutalized by over-policing, mass criminalization, mass incarceration, and mass surveillance.”
  • The Treatment-Industrial Complex: Alternative Corrections, Private Prison Companies, and Criminal Justice Debt Laura I Appleman, October, 2020“This Article explores and analyzes the little-researched area of criminal justice debt arising from alternative corrections: how private corrections companies profit from supervising those individuals released, paroled, sent to rehabilitation or diversion”
  • Impacts of Private Prison Contracting on Inmate Time Served and Recidivism Anita Mukherjee, August, 2020“The empirical analysis shows that private prison inmates serve 90 additional days. This is alternatively estimated as 4.8 percent of the average sentence.”
  • Commercialized (In)justice Litigation Guide: Applying Consumer Laws to Commercial Bail, Prison Retail, and Private Debt Collection National Consumer Law Center, June, 2020“States and local governments have increasingly offloaded core functions of their criminal legal systems--traditionally public services--onto private corporations operating to maximize profit for their owners and shareholders.”
  • The Prison Industry: Mapping Private Sector Players Worth Rises, May, 2020“This report exposes over 4,100 corporations that profit from the devastating mass incarceration of our nation's marginalized communities--disproportionately those of color and with low income.”
  • Connecting Families: Compelling messaging for prison phone justice campaigns Worth Rises, March, 2020“71% of people support providing families and their loved ones behind bars phone calls at no cost.”
  • Disordered Punishment: Workaround Technologies of Criminal Records Disclosure and the Rise of a New Penal Entrepreneurialism Alessandro Corda and Sarah E. Lageson, September, 2019“Criminal records, or proxies for them, are now actively produced and managed by third parties via corporate decision-making processes, rather than government dictating boundaries or outsourcing duties to private actors.”
  • The biggest priorities for prison and jail phone justice in 40 states Prison Policy Initiative, September, 2019“For example, the Minnesota Department of Corrections charges only $0.75 for a 15-minute in-state call from state prison, but the jails in the state charge, on average, $7.19 for the same call.”
  • As Wall Street Banks Sever Ties, Private Prison Companies Stand to Lose Over $1.9B in Future Financing Center for Popular Democracy, In the Public Interest, and Public Accountability Initiative, July, 2019“Given the six banks' commitments to provide no new financing, GEO Group and CoreCivic will potentially face a $1.9 billion shortfall when the current agreements expire.”
  • When jails replace in-person visits with video, what happens when the technology fails? Prison Policy Initiative, June, 2019“As more jails ban face-to-face visits in favor of paid video chats, a growing number of people in jail are being cut off from their families when the technology breaks down.”
  • Justice "cost points": Examination of privatization within public systems of justice Alexes Harris, Tyler Smith, Emmi Obara, May, 2019“Even though justice institutions primarily remain public entities, private corporations are running many key justice system programs and generating large profits from captive populations.”
  • The Prison Industrial Complex: Mapping Private Sector Players Worth Rises, April, 2019“More than half of the $80 billion spent annually on incarceration by government agencies is used to pay the thousands of vendors that serve the criminal legal system.”
  • Do Private Prisons Affect Criminal Sentencing? Christian Dippel and Michael Poyker, March, 2019“We found that a doubling of private prisons' capacities causes a moderate increase in the sentencing length of 23 days, but has no effect on the probability of getting a prison term.”
  • More states are signing harmful "free prison tablet" contracts Prison Policy Initiative, March, 2019“Tablet computers are delivering a captive audience to profit-seeking companies, while enabling prisons to cut essential services like law libraries.”
  • Commercialized (In)Justice: Consumer Abuses in the Bail And Corrections Industry National Consumer Law Center, March, 2019“The growth of the corrections industry accelerates the trend whereby the costs of our legal system are imposed on low-income, disadvantaged communities least able to shoulder such burdens, rather than shared as a collective public responsibility.”
  • Why expensive phone calls can be life-altering for people in jail - and can derail the justice process Prison Policy Initiative, February, 2019“The cost of jail phone calls punishes people in the most desperate circumstances, most of whom have not been convicted of a crime.”
  • On kickbacks and commissions in the prison and jail phone market Prison Policy Initiative, February, 2019“Phone providers are so creative in their influence-peddling that the most viable reform strategies do not focus only on "commissions."”
  • Who's really bringing contraband into jails? Our 2018 survey confirms it's staff, not visitors Prison Policy Initiative, December, 2018“By blaming contraband on in-person visitors, sheriffs distract from a far more likely source: jail staff.”
  • Texas prisons, we've got some questions about your commissary vendors Prison Policy Initiative, July, 2018“Incarcerated people can't hunt for the best price -- they are captive to the questionable decisions of commissary purchasing managers.”
  • How to spot the hidden costs in a "no-cost" tablet contract Prison Policy Initiative, July, 2018“Companies like JPay are offering "free" tablet programs to a growing number of states, and legislators should approach these offers with caution.”
  • "Set up to Fail": The Impact of Offender-Funded Private Probation on the Poor Human Rights Watch, February, 2018“This report examines the use and impact of privatized probation services for misdemeanor offenses in four US states, and provides recommendations to protect against the abuses of criminal justice debt.”
  • Findings from Knox County, Tenn.: Replacing in-person visits with video calling is bad policy Prison Policy Initiative, January, 2018“The ban on in-person visits makes the jail more dangerous, does nothing to stop the flow of contraband, and strips money from the pockets of families.”
  • Jail phone companies flood money into sheriff races Prison Policy Initiative, October, 2017“New research shows jail phone companies contributing significant sums to Sheriff's campaigns, in one case funding a quarter of Sheriff's campaign spending.”
  • The Wireless Prison: How Colorado's tablet computer program misses opportunities and monetizes the poor Prison Policy Initiative, July, 2017“Tablets could be an important rehabilitative tool, but not when GTL puts profit above service.”
  • The multi-million dollar market of sending money to an incarcerated loved one Prison Policy Initiative, January, 2017“Private companies amassing monopoly contracts, creating potential to rake in $172 million from friends and family sending money to incarcerated loved ones.”
  • Evading regulation, some in-state phone calls from jails cost over $1.50 a minute Prison Policy Initiative, January, 2017“These pricing schemes have resulted in 15 minute calls that would cost $24.95 from the Arkansas County Jail via Securus and $17.77 from the Douglas County jail in Oregon via Global Tel*Link.”
  • Buying Influence: How Private Prison Companies Expand Their Control of America's Criminal Justice System In The Public Interest, October, 2016“In 2014, out of the 30 governors, lieutenant governors, controllers, attorney generals, and legislators that received individual contributions of $5,000 or greater from the corrections industry, 27 won their races.”
  • Community Cages: Profitizing community corrections and alternatives to incarceration American Friends Service Committee, August, 2016“The profitization of community corrections poses a serious threat to the movement to end mass incarceration.”
  • Review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons' Monitoring of Contract Prisons U.S. Department of Justice, August, 2016“We found that, in most key areas, contract prisons incurred more safety and security incidents per capita than comparable BOP institutions and that the BOP needs to improve how it monitors contract prisons in several areas.”
  • Paging anti-trust lawyers: Prison commissary giants prepare to merge Prison Policy Initiative, July, 2016“We estimate that commissaries throughout the country rake in about $1.6 billion in sales each year.”
  • Some private prisons are, um, public. Prison Policy Initiative, June, 2016“It is time to accept the counter-intuitive truth: sometimes the government profits off of mass incarceration.”
  • Travis County, Texas: A Case Study on Video Visitation Prison Policy Initiative, April, 2016“While the majority rated their experience with video visitation as positive, almost all (91%) reported they would prefer face-to-face visitation.”
  • InCorrect Care: A Prison Profiteer Turns Care into Confinement Grassroots Leadership, February, 2016“This report’s in-depth analysis of GEO Group, GEO Care and now Correct Care Solutions’ involvement in operating mental health hospitals and civil commitment centers exposes serious concerns.”
  • Incarceration Incentives in the Decarceration Era Avlana Eisenberg, January, 2016“The detailed incentives unearthed by this study demonstrate the significant hurdles facing emerging decarceration policies and the urgent challenge of accounting for, overcoming, and co-opting entrenched prison industry stakeholders.”
  • Locked Up & Shipped Away: Interstate Prisoner Transfers and the Private Prison Industry Winter 2016 Update Grassroots Leadership, January, 2016(Since the 2013 release of Locked Up and Shipped Away, the same four states (Vermont, California, Idaho, and Hawaii) continue to house a portion of their prisoners in private prisons out of state. And, a fifth state, Arkansas has also opted to do so.)
  • Prison profiteers use campaign contributions to buy contracts Prison Policy Initiative, October, 2015“The Voice of OC has revealed that $85,000 in campaign contributions to two Orange County, California county supervisors by Global Tel*Link flipped the two supervisors from being opponents of charging families high phone rates into supporters.”
  • Are private prisons driving mass incarceration? Prison Policy Initiative, October, 2015“Private prisons are more like a parasite on the publicly-owned prison system, not the root cause of mass incarceration.”
  • Buying Access: How Corporations Influence Decision Makers at Corrections Conferences, Trainings, and Meetings In the Public Interest, August, 2015“In 2014, sponsors, vendors, corporate partners, and other non-individual entities contributed at least $3 million to five of the largest professional corrections associations.”
  • Are campaign contributions the new "commission"? Analysis of Securus's contributions in Sacramento Prison Policy Initiative, August, 2015“We argue that the FCC can simply ensure that the rates and fees charged are reasonable and leave the companies and the facilities to fight over whether and how to share the reasonable profits that remain.”
  • Do Private Prisons Distort Justice? Evidence on Time Served and Recidivism University of Wisconsin - Madison, March, 2015“My final result is that there is no reduction in recidivism for prisoners in private prison despite the additional time they serve, suggesting that either the marginal returns to incarceration are low, or private prisons increase recidivism risk.”
  • The demographics of computer ownership and high-speed internet access Prison Policy Initiative, March, 2015“The poor, the elderly, and African-Americans and Latinos are less likely to have computers or high-speed internet at home. Replacing regular jail visits with computer video chats is a bad idea.”
  • Are Private Prisons to Blame for Mass Incarceration and Its Evils? Prison Conditions, Neoliberalism, and Public Choice Hadar Aviram, January, 2015“Public institutions have privatized so many of their internal functions that they can hardly be differentiated from private ones. Public actors behave in ways as atrocious and neglectful, and they respond to the same market pressure, as private actors.”
  • Private Prisons, Private Records Boston University School of Law, January, 2015“Without access to operational and personnel information, practitioners and advocates are unable to determine with any reasonable degree of confidence whether many private facilities are operated in humane, productive, and cost effective ways.”
  • Treatment Industrial Complex: How For-Profit Prison Corporations are Undermining Efforts to Treat and Rehabilitate Prisoners for Corporate Gain American Friends Service Committee; Grassroots Leadership; Southern Center for Human Rights, November, 2014“Most for-profit prison corporations have dismal records in terms of safety, cost, and quality of the prisons that they manage.”
  • The Color of Corporate Corrections, Part II: Contractual Exemptions and the Overrepresentation of People of Color in Private Prisons Radical Criminology, February, 2014“...this study finds that people of color are overrepresented in private minimum and/or medium security private facilities relative to their public counterparts in each of the nine (9) states examined.”
  • Locked Up & Shipped Away: Interstate Prison Transfers and the Private Prison Industry Grassroots Leadership, November, 2013“Currently, prisoners in out-of-state private facilities are held approximately 450 miles to nearly 3,000 miles from their home states.”
  • Criminal: How Lockup Quotas and In the Public Interest, September, 2013“Essentially, the state would have to guarantee that its prison would be 90 percent filled for the next 20 years (a quota), or pay the company for unused prison beds if the number of inmates dipped below 90 percent capacity at any point...”
  • International Growth Trends in Prison Privatization Sentencing Project, August, 2013“Prison privatization is most concentrated and most fully privatized in a handful of predominantly English-speaking countries. These include Australia, Scotland, England and Wales, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States.”
  • Roadblocks to Reform Perils for Georgia's Criminal Justice System Southern Center for Human Rights, November, 2012“The traits endemic in private prisons – poorly trained staff, inadequate services, higher rates of violence and other infractions – dovetail with one another and are mutually reinforcing.”
  • Lake Erie Correctional Institution Full Internal Management Audit Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, September, 2012“Employees interviewed could not demonstrate the following: a knowledge of the local fire plan; a knowledge of the rapid release of inmates from cells in locked areas [...] and many simply stated they had no idea what they should do.”
  • Collateral Consequences of Interstate Transfer of Prisoners Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, July, 2012“In addition to breaches in facility security, out-of-state private prisons create significant barriers to rehabilitation and humane conditions of care.”
  • Dollars and Detainees The Growth of For-Profit Detention Sentencing Project, July, 2012“Between 2002-2010 [...] privately-held ICE and U.S. Marshals Service detainees increased by 206% and 322%, respectively. In contrast there was respective growth of 28% and 67% in the number of state and federal prisoners held in private facilities.”
  • "She Doesn't Deserve to be Treated Like This": Prisons as Sites of Reproductive Injustice Rachel Roth, Center for Women Policy Studies, July, 2012“[T]he well-established nature of women’s rights has not stopped prison and jail personnel from trying to deny women abortion care, or at least obstruct women’s access to abortion.”
  • Prison Bed Profiteers How Corporations Are Reshaping Criminal Justice in the U.S. National Council on Crime and Delinquency, May, 2012“Prison industry lobbyists seek to impact sentencing policies as well as the rules and regulations included in government contracts. In 2010, CCA, GEO, and Cornell Companies together spent more than $1.5 million on federal lobbying.”
  • Private Prisons: The Public's Problem American Friends Service Committee, February, 2012“Between 2008 and 2010, Arizona overpaid for its private prisons by about $10 million. If the requested 2,000 medium security private prison beds are built, Arizona taxpayers can expect to waste at least $6 million on privatization every year.”
  • Pitfalls and Promises The Real Risks to Residents and Taxpayers of Privatizing Prisons and Prison Services in Michigan Michigan Corrections Organization, February, 2012“Taxpayers want to save money. Private prisons want to make money. These are inherently opposite interests, since the only way for private prisons to make money is for the government to give it to them. The drive for growth can be counterproductive...”
  • Too Good to be True Private Prisons in America The Sentencing Project, January, 2012“The available data belies the oft-claimed economic benefits of private contracting, and points to the practice being an unreliable approach toward financial stability.”
  • Gaming the System: How the Political Strategies of Private Prison Companies Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies Justice Policy Institute, June, 2011“While private prison companies may try to present themselves as just meeting existing”
  • FY 2010 Operating Per Capita Cost Report Cost Identification and Comparison of State and Private Contract Beds ARIZONA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, April, 2011“An inmate health care cost factor is identified and deducted due to the limitations imposed by the private contractors [...][because] unlike the private contractors, the ADC is required to provide medical and mental health services to inmates [...].”
  • Banking on Bondage Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration ACLU, 2011(The evidence that private prisons provide savings compared to publicly operated facilities is highly questionable, and certain studies point to worse conditions in for-profit facilities.)
  • Department of Corrections-Prison Population Growth A Report to the Arizona Legislature State of Arizona Office of the Auditor General, September, 2010“The State paid more per inmate in private prisons that for equivalent services in state facilities.”
  • Corrections Department: Review of Facility Planning Efforts and Oversight of Private Prisons and Health Programs Legislative Finance Committee (New Mexico), May, 2007“Nationally, New Mexico places the highest percentage, about 42-44 percent, of inmates in private prisons. The national average is 6.5 percent.”
  • Cost-Saving or Cost-Shifting: The Fiscal Impact of Prison Privatization in Arizona Private Corrections Institute, February, 2005
  • Corrections Corporation of America: A Critical Look at the First 20 Years, Grassroots Leadership Grassroots Leadership, December, 2003“explores continuing operational and financial problems; questions CCA's long-term viability as states reassess prison policies”
  • Governments' Management of Private Prisons: Abt Associates, September, 2003“This report examines state and federal governments’ practices of contracting with private firms to manage prisons, including prisons owned by state and federal governments and those owned by private firms.”
  • Private Prisons and Public Money Hidden Costs Borne by Colorado's Taxpayers Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, September, 2002
  • A Contributing Influence: The Private-Prison Industry and Political Giving in the South Institute on Money in State Politics, April, 2002
  • Weighing the Watchmen: Evaluating the Costs and Benefits of Outsourcing Correctional Services Reason Public Policy Institute, January, 2002
  • Prison Privatization and the Use of Incarceration Sentencing Project, January, 2002(Updated in 9/2004)
  • Jail Breaks: Economic Development Subsidies Given to Private Prisons Good Jobs First, October, 2001
  • Selective Celling: Inmate Population in Ohio's Private Prisons Policy Matters Ohio, May, 2001(argues that prison cost savings are a myth by sending only low-cost prisoners to private prisons)
  • Emerging Issues on Privatized Prisons Bureau of Justice Assistance, February, 2001
  • The Prison Payoff: The Role of Politics and Private Prisons in the Incarceration Boom Western States Center and Western Prison Project, November, 2000
  • Private Prisons, Politics & Profits National Institute on Money in State Politics, July, 2000
  • Private Adult Correctional Facilities Fines, Failures and Dubious Practices Ontario Public Service Employees Union, April, 2000
  • The Private Prison Research Site Charles H. Logan, University of Connecticut, 2000(Author: Private Prisons: Cons and Pros)
  • The evidence is clear: Crime Shouldn't Pay AFSCME Corrections United, 2000
  • Inspection and Review of the Northeast Ohio Corr. Center Office of the Corrections Trustee, District of Columbia, November, 1998
  • Private Prisons in the United States An Assessment of Current Practice Abt Associaties, July, 1998
  • Should Crime Pay? A review of the evidence AFSCME Corrections United, 1998
  • Private and Public Prisons: Studies Comparing Operational Costs and/or Quality of Service General Accounting Office, August, 1996
  • The Private Sector and Prison Industries National Institute of Justice, August, 1985“As of January 1985, there were 26 projects in which the private sector was involved with State-level prison industries. There has been a gradual growth [...] until 1980, when a marked increase occurred at a rate that continues to grow today.”

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