Shocking Facts About America’s For-Profit Prison Industry

As long as their have been human societies, there have been criminals. Despite the best efforts of lawmakers and religions, humans can’t be trusted to do the right thing, even when we’re aware of the consequences. The prison system used to be a last resort, a place you sent people when other forms of punishment were ineffective. Now it’s grown into something much darker, and even less rehabilitative.

Unbeknownst to many, the prison system has become a for-profit business in which inmates are the product–a system that has shocking similarities to another human-based business from America’s past: slavery.

In late 2013, a new report from In the Public Interest (ITPI) revealed that private prison companies are striking deals with states that contain clauses guaranteeing high prison occupancy rates–sometimes 100 percent. This means that states agree to supply prison corporations with a steady flow of residents–whether or not that level of criminal activity exists. Some experts believe this relationship between government and private prison corporations encourages law enforcement agencies to use underhanded tactics–often targeting minority and underserved groups–to fill cells.

“The report, ‘Criminal: How Lockup Quotas and ‘Low-Crime Taxes’ Guarantee Profits for Private Prison Corporations,’ documents the contracts exchanged between private prison companies and state and local governments that either guarantee prison occupancy rates (essentially creating inmate lockup quotas) or force taxpayers to pay for empty beds if the prison population decreases due to lower crime rates or other factors (essentially creating low-crime taxes),” reports Salon.

As a result, there are now over 2 million people living behind bars in the United States. That’s half a million more than China, which has a population five times greater than the U.S. Many are incarcerated for non-violent crimes, like the use or possession of marijuana, and other problems that would be far better served through a rehabilitation or education program.

The worst part is that once captured by the prison industry, inmates are forced to work for pennies an hour, providing cheap labor for some of the most profitable enterprises in the world, including the U.S. Military.

“Federal Prison Industries, better known as UNICOR, consists entirely of convicts working at 89 factories,” reports Mental Floss. “Together, they help clothe the United States military, making jackets, uniforms, helmets, shoes, and even flak vests. For police officers, they craft body armor and holsters.”

When you can get that kind of labor for less than a dollar a day, it’s hard to see the government’s motivation for incarcerating fewer people. And it’s all done at the taxpayer’s expense.

Scroll through the infographic below for more shocking facts about Americas prison industry, and how much its costing taxpayers like you.

Private Prison Industry


Update: When originally published, this post contained the quote below, attributed to Left Business Observer. Since then, it has come to our attention that the quote may in fact have been fabricated. See here. We apologize for the error.

According to the Left Business Observer, “the federal prison industry produces 100 percent of all military helmets, ammunition belts, bullet-proof vests, ID tags, shirts, pants, tents, bags, and canteens. Along with war supplies, prison workers supply 98 percent of the entire market for equipment assembly services; 93 percent of paints and paintbrushes; 92 percent of stove assembly; 46 percent of body armor; 36 percent of home appliances; 30 percent of headphones/microphones/speakers; and 21 percent of office furniture. Airplane parts, medical supplies, and much more: prisoners are even raising seeing-eye dogs for blind people.”

Image via Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven5 months ago

thanks for the article.

Lonnie O.
Lonnie O.2 years ago

people working in prision isnt the problem the problem is that prisions are not designed to make people want to change there designed to make people worse than they were before they were locked way so they will repeat their mistakes over and over and alot of the time prison takes a nonviolent kid and turns them into a true criminal. Just think all of these people are someones baby,or father ,or mother.Come on something needs to be done how are they getting aWAY WITH GETTING RICH OFF OF KEEPING OUR FAMILIES LOCKED AWAY WITHOUT EVEN TRYING TO HELP THEM AT ALL!!!

Jelena Radovanovic
Past Member 2 years ago

Thank you.

Devon Griffiths
Devon Griffiths2 years ago

What I meant was there's no more resistance from industry groups, because the ones with all the political contacts got into the program, and drove the others out of business. They couldn't compete with less than a dollar wages and almost zero overhead (since the taxpayer funds the construction and maintenance of facilities for these businesses).

There is still resistance but there's just so many issues in the US right now that some of them fail to attract attention ... the citizenry is overwhelmed by the tsunami of corruption, crises, and abuses.

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani2 years ago

Thank you for this insight, Devon, I wasn't aware of it.

I disagree though with your statement "Since they've all gone out of business long ago, there is no one left to raise a fuss."

Those which have been pushed out of business - where are they now? Much more important: where are all the tax-paying people? They just take this laying down?

Americans have a name in Europe for suing - just as an idea: why don't the tax-payers file a class law suit against the government for misappropriating their tax dollars? Or try civil disobedience in not paying their taxes until this unhealthy and mafia-like situation is rectified?

There are still ways it seems ...

Devon Griffiths
Devon Griffiths2 years ago

Eleonora, the industry groups did fight back against UNICOR etc a few decades ago. At the highest levels. They lost, because the resistance came mostly from smaller manufacturers. The big manufacturers, the major corporations, were all going to get huge profits from this so the 'leaders' of the industries concerned were not worried one bit. Only the thousands of smaller businesses.

Since they've all gone out of business long ago, there is no one left to raise a fuss. The industries controlled by prison labour are mostly 100% in their grasp, all competition having been wiped out entirely.

Ala Morales
Ala Morales2 years ago

The same is in Canada. Profit for police, lawyers, judges etc.Our justice system is corrupted same as our politicians..

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani2 years ago

cut off again!

I don't follow the American News on this item closely as up until now I wasn't really aware of the magnitude of this "industry".

But one thing is for sure: It is scary!

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani2 years ago

Cindi - as Devon said your emotions are basically understood but if so ... shouldn't it be at a fair market price for the "employees" aka slaves? If for no other reason just not to put so many companies/people out of business?

The way it works now it feeds the vicious circle: people lose their jobs because companies go out of business, people have to go on wellfare ... others become petty criminals - go to jail - become slaves ... the government instead of doing the job it was ELECTED for outsources the jail BUSINESS ... and you all pay heavy with your tax money! Is this truly your opinion?

For whatever reasons people get in conflict with the law (I'm not to pass judgement) - our intention and idea as a functioning society is (or should I say was?) to rehabilitate and re-socialise those people who weren't that lucky in life. To make them members of our society again. Wasn't it?

It sure WAS NOT to make an industry out of jailing people, putting companies out of work and people on the street and feed this never ending cycle of lucrative profit for some.

At least ... this is how I understand it.

As for Devon's remark - I don't quite understand why the normal employers and the people don't stand up against this Mafia - that's what it is my eyes. Why is nobody in the streets, on TV and in the print media standing up and opposing this malpractice? Or does this happen now? I don't follow the American News on this item closely as up until now I wasn't really aware of

Devon Griffiths
Devon Griffiths2 years ago

Cindi, I understand that sentiment and on the surface it seems reasonable. We used to have a prison farms program here - they had the prisoners grow food for the prison system and I think some went to the military. This saved the taxpayer a lot of money and was a huge benefit in reforming prisoners because of the nature of the work. But because it made no profit for private companies, they scrapped it, to bring in prison sweatshops. They make goods that compete with free workers and they do so at wages free workers and free businesses can't compete with, driving them out of business.

The other problem is that there's no incentive to keep people out of jail or reduce crime rates because more crime and more people in jail means more cheap labour and more profits. The incentive is towards more crime and more imprisonment. In the US system, more people are now under lockup than anywhere else in the world by a wide margin. More people than anywhere else has EVER locked up - more, even, than Nazi Germany or Stalin's USSR.