The Rise in the Prison-Industrial Complex

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Timeline of total number of inmates in U.S. prisons

Timeline of total number of inmates in U.S. prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities. From 1920 to 2006.

The Rise in the Prison-Industrial Complex (PIC) has been coined to attribute rapid expansion of the US inmate population due to political influence of private prison companies and suppliers to government prison agencies. PIC, a term borrowed from the Military-Industrial Complex that President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of in his 1961 farewell address. Has the belief that imprisonment is the quick fix to society’s problems?

The current incarceration rate in the United States is the highest in the world. There are approximately 13 million people jailed in the U.S. each year. Six million are under supervision by correctional facilities. This means that one in 50 of our citizens are currently working their way through the U.S. prison system. The prison system includes those who are serving time, being placed on probation or being paroled. The Federal Bureau of Prisons state that most people being held in federal prisons have been convicted of drug offenses; specifically, most offenders are in prison for marijuana. At the present time, one out of every 100 people in the United States can be found serving time in jail.

Promotions of jobs created of prison building and the use of inmates for labor are cited as elements of the prison complex. Groups who promote this type of job creation often involve those whose motives are solely for profit versus the need for punishing or rehabilitating criminals or the reduction of crime rates. Those in opposition of this view believe that growth of the prison industry and incarcerated individuals has increased based on the sole desire of monetary gain.

This may explain the overcrowding of the prison system. While maintaining housing, food, security and medical care for six million of our citizens is causing a financial drain for many of our states, the leaders of the for-profit prison contractors are earning record profits. The prison business is a 70 billion dollar a year business in the U.S. The private prison corporations of Corrections Corp of America and GEO Group have presented proposals to 48 state prison officials. They are offering to buy and run their prisons for substantially less than they are currently paying.

However, there is a caveat; the prisons must have a minimum of 1,000 beds, and each state would have to legally commit to maintain at least 90 percent occupancy rates in their prisons for a minimum of 20 years. While this scenario might be a tempting offer for some states, the obligation to keep 90 percent of their prisons full would create the necessity to impose and maintain the most severe sentencing laws possible. Without this, the private prison corporations would not earn the high volumes of cash that their investors have come to expect.



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  1. Naturalbeauty92 says:

    Breaking the law is inexcusable but come on now do we really expect prisoners to pay to be incarcerated. Can someone please inform on where they would get the money? The crime rate is at an all time high but the economy is the main reason. Too many people unemployed and trying to survive.

  2. jennifer belle fowler says:

    The prisoners should be required to farm for their food and meat, and work and train for jobs and earn the state money instead of it being the other way, if we would send the drug cases to a program that works and put them in job training programs this would solve many problems, sending them to prison gives them a record so when they get out there is no chance to get a job in the community therefore sending them back to prison.

  3. oportosanto says:

    The rise between 1980 and 2006 is mind blowing… Funny enough it’s the period when the cold war ended and all the mathematicians and physicist stopped to work on weapons and started to work in the financial markets…

  4. George Edwards says:

    This makes no sense to me, due to the sheer magnitude of money involved. However, I understand that there is no better alternative at the moment, and thus we are stuck in a vicious loop. I would really like this to be a topic of discussion this election.

  5. Criminals should pay prison fees.Breaking laws is unexcusable. If they had to pay I’m sure they would want to stay.

  6. chartara powell says:

    Wowww that is wild can not believe this

  7. Jasmine2015 says:

    Who owns the prisons and profits off of them? I am always afraid that petty criminals may come out as more sophisticated criminals once they learn from the other criminals that are still serving time. If people wanted to take on the “war on drugs”, then the drug abusers need to be in some type of rehab. I also worry about people who may have a harder time being able to find jobs because of their history of being in and out of prison. In my opinion, lots of crimes are financially motivated and if a person had a job, they would be less likely to engage in crime. Having a job wouldn’t mean a person won’t engage in crime, just less likely. (Too bad I can’t say this for the politicians that have a job and still end up corrupt by getting involved with criminal activities involving money!)

  8. Eileen100 says:

    The graph gives me chills, I wonder if the media has a role in the influence in violent behavior. I’m also wondering if the PIC (prison Industrial Complex) is privatized who owns them. Are there multiple owners? If there are multiple owners who have a stake in massive amounts of people going to jail and entering into the prisons. This is a huge red flag; I don’t see society as a whole being any better off from so many being held as prisoners. These people are not being rehabilitated because that is not what’s being promoted. The people who stand to profit the most out of the prison system should be the prisoners themselves; they should be rehabilitated properly.

  9. bonzer says:

    13 million people being jailed every year in US is staggering numbers. Though, rehab is welcome in prisons, the quantum of punishment for serious crimes must be enhanced and a massive social campaign on awareness of the same must be launched. A workshop consisting social scientists must be organized to find out ways and means of curbing criminal tendencies.

  10. Our prisons are overfilling with prisoners nowadays that some have to be let out due to overcrowding. Our correctional system has become punitive oriented instead of rehabilitative. Most people do not realize that crime rates have actually significantly decreased the past twenty+ years in the United States. This can be partially due to the “war on drugs”. Another problem is people being arrested for violating parole or probation once for an insignificant reason.

  11. Well, this explains a lot. I eas trying to understand how they can sentence people a long period of prison time that did minor things. People raped or murdered other seem to be getting out faster just kill and rape someone else.

  12. Great website and full of information. If only the government just looked at the hard facts. Thank you.


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