The United States has become home to the most massive prison system in the world, incarcerating an inmate population that has skyrocketed over past decades. Driven by increasingly harsh sentencing laws that can lock up even nonviolent first-time offenders for decades, 1 in 100 American adults are now behind bars. 1
While the US comprises only 5% of the global population, it has 25% of the world's total prisoners, and with 2.3 million people in prison, the US prison population even outranks China's 1.6 million. 2
To cope with this burgeoning mass of convicts, federal and state agencies have turned to making contracts with private prison corporations – companies in the business of taking over the correctional system from governments, and turning a profit in the process. But when their profits depend on a steady stream of prisoners, their goal becomes to incarcerate as many people as possible. These companies, such as the Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group, have lobbied elected officials to promote ever-harsher sentencing laws. They've even made deals that require states to ensure that these private prisons will be filled with inmates – or else taxpayers are left to pay the difference. This aggressive expansion has led the growth of private prisons to outpace that of the already growing prison population overall.
When prisons become businesses, they inevitably start cutting corners to save money and boost profits, and inmates are the ones who suffer. Prisoners in private facilities have been denied running water or toilets, and have been subjected to medical neglect leading to death. Pregnant women have given birth unattended. Inmates have been beaten and raped as private prisons cut the number of guards on duty to save money. Prisoners in these privately-run lockups have endured the most shocking indignities – all in the name of ever-growing profit.