Private Prisons in the United States

Twenty-six states and the federal government incarcerated 99,754 people in private prisons in 2020, representing 8% of the total state and federal prison population.

Related to: Incarceration, Sentencing Reform

Private prisons incarcerated 99,754 American residents in 2020, representing 8% of the total state and federal prison population. Since 2000, the number of people housed in private prisons has increased 14%.

Harmful crime policies of the 1980s and beyond fueled a rapid expansion in the nation’s prison population. The resulting burden on the public sector led to the modern emergence of for-profit prisons in many states and the federal system. Of the 1.2 million people in federal and state prisons, 8%, or 99,754 people, were in private prisons as of yearend 2020.

States show significant variation in the use of private prisons. At one end of the spectrum, Montana incarcerates half of its prison population in privately run facilities, but in another 22 states, private prisons are not used at all. A total of 26 states and the federal government use private corporations like GEO Group, Core Civic, LaSalle Corrections, and Management and Training Corporation to run some of their corrections facilities.

Click here to view state data and read the fact sheet.

About the Authors

  • Mackenzie Buday

    Former Research Intern at The Sentencing Project

  • Ashley Nellis, Ph.D.

    Co-Director of Research

    Ashley Nellis, Ph.D. has an academic and professional background in analyzing criminal justice policies and practices, racial disparities, juvenile justice systems, and long-term imprisonment. Her documentation of the prevalence of life imprisonment has served as a national resource for academics, advocates, policymakers, reporters, and incarcerated persons.

    Read more about Ashley

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