For-Profit Prisons: 8 Statistics That Show the Problems

As private prisons become the norm in the United States, it’s time society takes a look at the institution and asks, “Are prisons really being used as rehabilitation/deterrence for crime, or have private interests started attaching price tags to lawbreakers’ heads and exploited their incarceration for profit?”

Here are several key statistics that paint an ugly, troubling picture of the for-profit prison system in America:

500% Increase

The biggest private prison owner in America, The Corrections Corporation of America, has seen its profits increase by more than 500% in the past 20 years. Moreover, the business’ growth shows no sign of stopping, having already approached 48 states to take over government-run prisons.

10-60 Pounds Lighter

One way for-profit prisons to minimize costs is by skimping on provisions, including food. A psychiatrist who investigated a privately run prison in Mississippi found that the inmates were severely underfed and looked “almost emaciated.” During their incarceration, prisoners dropped anywhere from 10 to 60 pounds.


100% of all military helmets, ID tags, bullet-proof vests and canteens are created in federal prison systems through prison labor. Though prisoners are “generously” compensated cents per hour, it’s clear having this inexpensive, exploited labor force is critical to the military industrial complex. I bet that the irony that mostly non-violent offenders are making war gear for others to perpetuate violence abroad without consequence is not lost on many of the inmates.

90% Occupancy

States sign agreements with private prisons to guarantee that they will fill a certain number of beds in jail at any given point. The most common rate is 90%, though some prisons are able to snag a 100% promise from their local governments. Because of these contracts, the state is obligated to keep prisons almost full at all times or pay for the beds anyway, so the incentive is to incarcerate more people and for longer in order to fill the quota.


One in every four people that is incarcerated worldwide is held captive in a United States jail. How is it that a country with only 5% of the world’s population has 25% of all the inmates? Simple: prisoners are source of revenue for private companies, so the demand for incarcerating them is especially high.

11 Times

Violent crimes are down overall, so how does the United States keep prisons stocked instead? Amplifying the war on drugs: there are now 11 times as many people in jail for drug convictions than there were in 1980, constituting 50% of the prison population. Longer mandatory minimum sentences also keeps the inmates in longer. Most people incarcerated for drug charges are non-violent, have no prior record, and are addicts rather than major drug-traffickers.


Nearly half of all detained immigrants are held in privately owned facilities. The fact that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has stepped up its game to detain more undocumented immigrants – about 400,000 each year – has actually increased the need for private systems as most detainees will linger in the system waiting for court dates for months if not years.

Civil rights groups have deemed the quality of care provided in immigrant detention centers unacceptable, particularly because of the large numbers of preventable fatalities and sexual assaults.

$45 million

The three largest for-profit prison corporations have spent more than $45 million on campaign donations and lobbyists to keep politicians on the side of privatized incarceration. In light of all of their ethical violations, it’s obvious that they have to offer some incentive for keeping their business legal.


Jim Ven
Jim Ven10 months ago

thanks for the article.

Michael T.
Michael T3 years ago

I know this is hard for you to understand Brandon, since this is not a very conservative site like you are used to posting on and they may do things differently. I have also noted before that you seem to have a habit of taking things out of context, and moving the goalposts.

I posted factual information. If you look close enough you’ll note that I also posted the link to this information supporting it. If I am not mistaken, it is now incumbent on you to do the research supporting your assertion.

Additionally, you have missed the point.

If you read the statement carefully

the crime rate was ALREADY falling

BEFORE these prisons were built.

Secondly, I know this might be difficult, but had you taken the time to read the 4th paragraph of Fact 4 you would have had your answer. Reframing the position in such a way that aims at causing me to do more footwork, rather than you, seems to be a part of your game.

Frankly, I am not having any of it.

Brian Foster
Brian F3 years ago

No dictatorship compares to the incarceration rate, per capita, with the US - Land of the "Free" is truly an oxymoron...United States accounts for 5 percent of the world’s population, and almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners. It is number one with the proverbial bullet when it comes to locking up its own people. No thug dictator, no psychopathic madman, anywhere in the world can touch the United States inThe United States has the highest rate of incarceration at 726 prisoners per 100,000 people. The second highest are Russia, Belarus, and Bermuda, all with a rate of 532 prisoners per 100,000 people. • The third is Palau, with 523 prisoners per 100,000 people. Western European nations have much lower rates, with England and Wales at 142, Germany at 96, and France at 91 per 100,000 people.7
Many non-Western European nations also have significantly lower rates, with Cuba at 190 prisoners per 100,000 people,8 China with 118, and India with 29.9. More than three fifths of the world’s nations have incarceration rates below 150 per 100,000 people.10 this department.

Brandon Van Every

Might as well talk about South Africa while we're at it. Homicide rate is 6x the US rate, and they have strict gun controls.

When I was thinking of countries that summarily execute people at the scene of the "crime," this is the country I was thinking of, although there are others. "South Africa mourns 44 killed in mine clashes" 34 of 'em were police opening fire on a crowd (admittedly armed with spears) in just one incident. They have 1/6th the population of the USA, yet manage to generate a number of summary executions by police that's equal to our own due process capital punishment.

South Africa is not a civilized country. It has a long history of racial injustice that it is slowly working through. People go on and on about the USA *as if* we're like South Africa, Russia, or China, but we're not.

Brandon Van Every

Meanwhile in Russia, the death penalty is suspended, but Putin will still put a grenade in your window if he doesn't like what you said about him. "No death penalty unless it's in the interest of the State to summarily kill you." I will take the US system of freedoms and civil liberties over that! Russia also has 2x the number of homicides that the USA does, despite strict gun controls. This proves both that getting rid of the death penalty doesn't make a country more civilized, nor does enacting stringent gun control laws. You have to look at other factors in a society, such as basic respect for civil liberties, political freedoms, and human rights.

Sure, feel free to rank the USA compared to Europe in that regard. Just remember that we're actually better than a lot of places in the world, where you don't want to be subjected to their "justice" system.

Brandon Van Every

Marc, you seem to have missed the point of what "an order of magnitude more executions" means. The USA with 315 million people executes 43. That equals 13 per 100 million. China with 1,349 million people executes 1000. That equals 74 per 100 million. 74/13 = 5.6 times as many executions. Ok I erred, it's not an order of magnitude (defined as 10x) more. Just *half* an order of magnitude. China had a few more people than I originally guessed when making my claim.

You like to privilege the ranking 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th in executions, because that will make the USA look really really bad. Guilt by being near the top of a list. However, there's a huge falloff between the 1st and the 5th position. Guilt for actual number of executions is not as bad as you say, particularly for the amount of due process that actually goes into those executions in this country. China, basically, they're much more likely to execute without much of a trial. We're far more civilized than you would make us out to be.

Brandon Van Every

Michael claims, "Fact 2: Despite falling crime rates, between 1972 and 2003, the number of prisoners in local, state, and federal institutions increased by more than 550 percent, from 326,000 to more than 2.1 million." But perhaps the increased incarceration has caused crime to fall. Can you disprove that?

Tanya Selth
Tanya Selth3 years ago

The numbers in US prisons is staggering. It shows something must be really wrong there.

Michael T.
Michael T3 years ago

“Get tough on crime” policies have also produced the warehousing and confinement of a staggering number of people, massive and brutal abuses of human rights, profiteering and economic exploitation, increasing redirection of public funds away from human needs into policing (domestic and global) and prisons, and many kinds of violence done to entire communities because of the relentless growth of what is called “the prison-industrial complex.”

In just one decade, the 1990s, a prison building boom produced 245 new jails and prisons in small towns and rural communities.

Michael T.
Michael T3 years ago

The ability of judges to use discretion in sentencing has been restricted, and the justice goal of rehabilitation for incarcerated offenders— most will be released back into the community, and many are now in their teens and twenties— has been all but abandoned.

How much of this incarceration increase is due to dramatic increases in crime rates? According to the Sentencing Project, for the period 1980–1996, when the inmate population tripled, 88 percent of the increase was a result of “get tough” sentencing policies, and only 12 percent was due to changes in crime rates.

Fact 5: Supporters promise that these policies will “send a message” that certain offenses and crimes of violence are “not acceptable,” and that they will deter violence and produce safety.

The cumulative effect of “get tough” measures, however, is not safety. Rather, it is the maintenance of an almost constant and growing sense of fear, combined with the rapid expansion of an incarceration industry, and a widening spiral of violence — grim and bureaucratic — done or at least paid for by the state with our money and, in our names.