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Accountable Private Prisons

Privately run correctional facilities and detention centers pose a challenge to the ideals of justice and accountability. We expose perverse financial incentives rampant in the industry and back solutions to ensure greater accountability.


In Amer­ica, mass incar­cer­a­tion is big busi­ness. Over the past three decades, private pris­ons have grown at an astound­ing rate, with a 1600 percent increase in their popu­la­tions between 1990 and 2005. Today, privately owned pris­ons and deten­tion centers are part of an immense, mult­i­bil­lion-dollar enter­prise that profits off punish­ment. For-profit pris­ons and the broader prison-indus­trial complex that surrounds correc­tions today are not the engine behind the growth of prison popu­la­tions. In fact, elim­in­at­ing private pris­ons entirely would only shrink the state prison popu­la­tion by 7 percent. However, it is import­ant to study and under­stand the industry’s influ­ence and explore ways to ensure the industry is more account­able.

The Bren­nan Center is at the fore­front of reveal­ing the human and economic cost of the privat­iz­a­tion of justice. Our research has shown how a profit motive can prove a signi­fic­ant imped­i­ment to decar­cer­a­tion. Yet redu­cing mass incar­cer­a­tion is now a bipar­tisan concern, and, short of abol­ish­ing private pris­ons, there are a number of reforms that can ensure better outcomes for the indi­vidu­als incar­cer­ated and detained in these facil­it­ies, such as perform­ance-based contracts that require recidiv­ism reduc­tion, legis­la­tion that would require trans­par­ency of docu­ments and reques­ted inform­a­tion, and enhanced over­sight of these pris­ons and deten­tion centers.


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