The Buck Stops Here

On October 1,, in collaboration with the ACLU and Brave New Films, launched the first in a new series of videos titled “Prison Profiteers,” examining the myriad ways corporations seek to make big bucks off mass incarceration. The videos, which will be rolled out over the next several weeks, are pithy, hard-hitting profiles that provide a disturbing glimpse of a range of exploitative practices born of for-profit prison services, from charging inmates’ families astronomical phone rates to cutting corners on prison healthcare. And then there are private prisons themselves, whose stake in punitive sentencing could not be more obvious.

“It’s like the hotel industry,” says Alex Friedmann, an editor at Prison Legal News, who was once incarcerated in a private prison. “The hotel industry wants to keep their beds full as much as possible, because it means more revenue. Same thing for the private prison companies.”

Defenders of for-profit prisons and services pitch them as superior, efficient, money-saving options for cash-strapped states and localities that can ill afford the costs of mass incarceration. (And indeed, historically, state-run services have often proved abysmal.) But not only do such privatized services end up costing more; they can also impose huge unseen costs to inmates and their families.

Worse still are the implications on a larger scale: when corporations seek to profit from prisons, a powerful financial incentive is created, not just to cut corners in the services they’ve been hired to provide, but to push for policies that fuel mass incarceration.

As Brave New Foundation’s Jesse Lava explains, “The ‘Prison Profiteers’ series illustrates how greed has become a major driver of mass incarceration—and how the system is more vast than most citizens imagine.”

“For-profit companies are making billions by exploiting our mass incarceration crisis,” says Vanita Gupta, director of the ACLU’s Center for Justice. “Over the next six weeks, we’ll be attacking their bottom lines. These companies need to know we’re watching.”

—Liliana Segura

To watch the videos and learn how you can help fight back, visit