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Dollars and Detainees: The Growth of For-Profit Detention

NCJ Number
Cody Mason
Date Published
July 2012
28 pages
This report from The Sentencing Project examines the growth of the for-profit detention companies.
This report examines the problems associated with the growth in for-profit detention companies. An analysis of the problem found that in 2010, 1 in every 13 prisoners in the United States was detained by a for-profit detention company, despite the fact that studies have shown the for-profit prison industry to be no more cost-effective than publicly run correctional facilities. The report discusses two of the main problems that have resulted in the expansion of for-profit detention: Federal detainees that fall under the jurisdiction of either the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS). Between 2002 and 2010, the number of ICE and USMS detainees held by private detention companies increased by 206 percent and 322 percent, respectively, compared to the growth of State and Federal prisoners held in private facilities, 28 percent and 67 percent, respectively. The report examines the use of private detention companies by both ICE and USMS, in addition to discussing the different types of facilities used by private detention companies. The final section of the report discusses the problems associated with the use of for-profit detention companies, such as the quality of services and security provided by the companies, the political impact as these companies lobby State and Federal officials to ensure a rising prison population and expansion of privatization contracts, and the use of suspect methodologies to justify the cost-saving benefits of private prisons. Implications for policymakers are discussed. Appendixes and references