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Private Prisons in the United States

August 02, 2018
U.S. private prisons incarcerated 128,063 people in 2016, representing 8.5% of the total state and federal prison population.  

Private prisons in the United States incarcerated 128,063 people in 2016, representing 8.5% of the total state and federal prison population. Since 2000, the number of people housed in private prisons has increased 47%.

States show significant variation in their use of private correctional facilities. For example, New Mexico incarcerates over 40% of its prison population in private facilities, while 23 states do not employ any for-profit prisons. Data compiled by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) and interviews with corrections officials find that in 2016, 27 states and the federal government incarcerated people in private facilities run by corporations  including GEO Group, Core Civic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), and Management and Training Corporation.

According to BJS data, 19 of the states with private prison contracts incarcerate more than 500 people in for-profit prisons. Texas, the first state to adopt private prisons in 1985, incarcerated the largest number of people under state jurisdiction, 13,692.

Since 2000, the number of people in private prisons has increased 47%, compared to an overall rise in the prison population of 9%. In six states, the private prison population has more than doubled during this period. The federal prison system experienced a 120% increase in use of private prisons since 2000, reaching 34,159 people in private facilities in 2016. Among the immigrant detention population, 26,249 people – 73% of the detained population – were confined in privately run facilities in 2017. The private immigrant population grew 442% since 2002.

Private prison population, 2000 and 2016

The private prison population reached its peak in 2012 with 137,220 people. The population then declined for three years before increasing again in 2016.

At the federal level, a 2016 Obama Administration policy shift to reduce reliance and ultimately phase out private prison contracts was reversed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in February 2017. The reversal took place despite significant declines in the federal prison population and a scathing report by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General that found federally contracted prisons had more safety and security incidents than public prisons. Currently, the federal Bureau of Prisons maintains the nation’s highest number of people managed under private prison custody. Changes in policy at the Department of Justice in 2017 that are likely to increase sentence length and expand prosecutions for drug and immigration offenses may contribute to the expansion of private facility contracting.

Proportion of incarcerated population in private prisons, 2015
Private Prison State Map for website

 

 

Incarceration in private prisons
Jurisdiction 2000 2016 % private 2016 % change 2000-2016
Alabama 0 348 1.2 ~
Alaska 1,383 551 12.4 -60.2
Arizona 1,430 8,285 19.6 479.4
Arkansas 1,540 0 0 -100
California 4,547 7,005 5.4 54.1
Colorado 2,099 3,564 17.8 69.8
Connecticut 0 508 3.4 ~
Delaware 0 0 0
D.C. 2,342 * *
Florida 3,912 12,176 12.2 211.3
Georgia 3,746 7,973 14.9 112.8
Hawaii 1,187 1,405 25.1 18.4
Idaho 1,162 420 5.1 -63.9
Illinois 0 0 0
Indiana 991 3,927 15.4 296.3
Iowa 0 0 0
Kansas 0 0 0
Kentucky 1,268 0 0 -100
Louisiana 3,068 0 0 -100
Maine 11 0 0 -100
Maryland 127 25 0.1 -80.3
Massachusetts 0 0 0
Michigan 449 0 0 -100
Minnesota 0 0 0
Mississippi 3,230 3,078 16 -4.7
Missouri 0 0 0
Montana 986 1,481 38.8 50.2
Nebraska 0 0 0
Nevada 508 0 0 -100
New Hampshire 0 0 0
New Jersey 2,498 2,720 13.7 8.9
New Mexico 2,155 3,040 43.1 41.1
New York 0 0 0
North Carolina 330 30 0.1 -90.9
North Dakota 96 0 0 -100
Ohio 1,918 6,259 12 226.3
Oklahoma 6,931 7,149 26.6 3.1
Oregon 0 0 0
Pennsylvania 0 680 1.4 ~
Rhode Island 0 0 0
South Carolina 0 12 0.1 ~
South Dakota 45 34 0.9 -24.4
Tennessee 3,510 7,433 26.4 111.8
Texas 13,985 13,692 8.4 -2.1
Utah 208 0 0 -100
Vermont 0 264 15.2
Virginia 1,571 1,576 4.2 0.3
Washington 0 0 0
West Virginia 0 0 0
Wisconsin 4,337 0 0 -100
Wyoming 275 269 11.3 -2.2
Federal 15,524 34,159 18.1 120
Total 87,369 128,063 8.5 46.6
~ Use of private prisons implemented after 2000; * D.C. count incorporated in federal numbers
Sources: Prisoners Series (2016, 2000), Bureau of Justice Statistics, Department of Justice, Washington, D.C. Interviews with North Dakota and Oregon corrections officials. Data of average daily immigrant detention numbers obtained from Immigration and Custom Enforcement and Removal Operations division by Detention Watch Network and the Center for Constitutional Rights as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
 
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