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Private Prisons Hold Almost 100,000 Prisoners, 8% of Total U.S. Prison Population

According to a report published by The Sentencing Project on June 15, 2023, the federal government and 27 states incarcerated 96,370 people in private prisons in 2021, amounting to 8% of America’s prison population.

Private prisons are not used to house prisoners in the other 23 states. But private prisons also hold nearly 79% of those detained for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement nationwide, representing another 16,000 people. The largest private prison firms include GEO Group, Core Civic, LaSalle Corrections and Management and Training Corporation.

Among states that use them, private prisons hold the biggest share of state prisoners in Montana—about 50%. In Arizona, Hawaii, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Tennessee, between 21% and 45% of state prisoners are held in a for-profit prison.

Though the overall share of American prisoners in private lockups hasn’t changed much since 2000, it is down significantly from its 2012 peak. A big driver of this in recent years is the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), which ended use of private prisons to hold federal prisoners under an executive order issued by Pres. Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D), moving about 21,565 prisoners out of private lockups since 2021.

But even with the BOP ban on private prisons, there is no ban on using them for immigration detention. This loophole allowed at least one GEO Group prison to replace its federal prisoners with ICE detainees and never close.

Eunice Cho, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, said that the Biden administration “is literally allowing private prison companies to fill beds that were emptied out under the executive order with immigrant detainees. These companies are basically playing an end run around the executive order.”

As PLN has reported, services to prisoners are not improved by privatization, whether in food, healthcare, recreation and programming or security. Rather it sparks a kind of race to the bottom, with profits flowing not from better services, just from providing less of them. In the case of private prisons, contracts that guarantee a private operator a minimum amount of revenue provide their own incentive to the criminal justice system to keep those paid-for cells full. See: Private Prisons in the United States, Sentencing Project (June 2023).  


Additional source: CNN

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