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Too Good to be True: Private Prisons in America

January 13, 2012
Cody Mason
In 2010, private prisons held 128,195 individuals, representing 8% of America's total prison population and an 80% increase compared to 1999. This growth has been fueled by claims that private prisons provide equal or superior services compared to publicly operated facilities, and at a lower cost.

In 2010, private prisons held 128,195 of the 1.6 million state and federal prisoners in the United States, representing eight percent of the total population. For the period 1999-2010, the number of individuals held in private prisons grew by 80 percent, compared to 18 percent for the overall prison population.

While both federal and state governments increasingly relied on privatization, the federal prison system’s commitment to privatization grew much more dramatically. The number of federal prisoners held in private prisons rose from 3,828 to 33,830, an increase of 784 percent, while the number of state prisoners incarcerated privately grew by 40 percent, from 67,380 to 94,365. Today, 30 states maintain some level of privatization, with seven states housing more than a quarter of their prison populations privately.

This report details the history of the movement to privatize prisons in America and documents the increase in their use. It also examines the purported ability of private prisons to provide the same level of services as publicly operated facilities, but at a lower cost, as well as the lobbying and contribution activities of private prisons on the state and federal level.

To read the report, download the PDF below.

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