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New Book Offers Exclusive Look Inside Private Prison Industry, Recommends Reforms for Improvement

Inside Private Prisons includes three years of research and on-the-ground interviews by Lauren-Brooke Eisen, senior counsel in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program.

November 7, 2017

Inside Private Prisons Includes Three Years of Research & On-the-Ground Interviews by the Brennan Center’s Lauren-Brooke Eisen

New York, NY – A new book released today by Lauren-Brooke Eisen, senior counsel in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program, offers unprecedented access to an often shadowy and opaque private prison system, and calls for greater accountability to the public and government.
A $5 billion sector, today more than 125,000 Americans are incarcerated in private prisons. The industry oversees 65 percent of the nation’s immigration detention beds. And, the system is growing.
The book comes on the heels of a spate of recent moves by the Trump administration to expand the industry. Within months of taking office, Trump ramped up the private sector’s role in building more immigrant detention centers. In a one-paragraph memo, Attorney General Sessions reversed the Obama administration’s policy to reduce the use of private prisons at the federal level.
Published by Columbia University Press, Inside Private Prisons blends Eisen’s work as a prosecutor, journalist, and attorney. It’s a product of three years of investigative reporting, interviews, and visits to private prisons and immigration detention centers.
In it, she examines the industry through the eyes of incarcerated individuals, their families, correctional staff, Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees, undocumented immigrants, the executives of America’s largest private prison corporations, and more. She reports on both criticisms of the industry and its economic lure to impoverished rural towns.
Given the political reality that private prisons will not soon disappear, Eisen offers a series of reforms to dramatically improve facilities and the lives of those touched by them.
Among the recommendations for reform:

  1. Improve access for journalists and the general public;
  2. Increase transparency through compliance to open-records requests; and
  3. Restructure private prison contracts to require the industry to reduce recidivism rates and improve programming.

Kirkus Review wrote Inside Private Prisons is “an admirably researched look at an ominous aspect of criminal justice.”
David Simon, the creator of the television show The Wire, said: “If you want to intelligently argue about the modern prison-industrial complex, begin your studies here.” Pulitzer Prize-winning author Heather Ann Thompson called it “long awaited, powerful, and a critically important read” for anyone looking to understand the connection between profit and incarceration.
“In her work at the Brennan Center for Justice, Lauren-Brooke has focused on how we can use economic incentives and budgeting to spur positive change. In this book she applies that creative creative framework to the thorny issue of private prisons,” said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center. “She couples that creative policymaking with exclusive investigative reporting. The book measurably advances our thinking on this issue.”
“The private prison industry raises profound questions about state responsibility, economic development, morality, and the nature of punishment in America,” said Lauren-Brooke Eisen, senior counsel in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program. “I wrote this book to help answer those questions, and suggest ways to improve an industry that has significant power over the lives of so many.”
Learn more about the book, hear Eisen’s interviews about the private prison industry, and see dates for her cross country book tour here. And click here to read a piece she wrote this week for The Marshall Project on what happens when a private prison in a small town fails.  

To schedule an interview with Eisen, contact Rebecca Autrey at or 646–292–8316.