The U.S. Prison System: A Multimillion-Dollar Industry

The U.S. prison system is not simply a method of punishing and detaining criminals, but is also a profitable, multimillion-dollar industry. This leads to some problems.

The number of private prisons have sprung up in recent times. While in 1998 there were only 5 private prisons, by 2008 the number jumped to 100. According to journalist and author Eduardo Galeano in his book Upside Down, the private U.S. prison company Corrections Corporation of America was one of the five highest priced companies on the New York Stock Exchange by the end of the twentieth century. In fact in 1996, World Research Group held a conference to discuss how to maximize profits in this burgeoning industry.

What’s wrong with the privatization of prisons? It creates a financial incentive to keep people behind bars, regardless of whether they deserve to or not.

While crime rates have gone down, the number of people incarcerated has gone up. According to Human Rights Watch, 2.3 million people were incarcerated as of 2007. The United States has the largest incarceration rate in the world with a staggering 762 per 100,000 residents. Compare this to the U.K. whose rate is 152 per 100,000 residents, or Canada whose rate is 102.

So many prisoners create a large workforce. According to the Left Business Observer, the federal prison industry is responsible for the production of war supplies such as military helmets, ammunition belts and bullet-proof vests. In addition they also produce equipment services, body armor, medical supplies and more. From an employer’s perspective, prisoners create the ideal workforce — no need to give them benefits, compensation or reasonable wages.

While few would argue that dangerous criminals should be allowed to roam the streets, keeping people in prison for the sake of maximizing profits is immoral and unjust. Incarceration takes a toll on families and communities, and the formerly incarcerated experience great difficulty in getting hired to new jobs once released. In addition, overcrowding in prisons leads to security concerns for inmates and officers alike.

Simply put, a person should be incacerated for the crime committed, not for profit.


Joe R.
Joe R.4 years ago

Very disturbing. Thanks.

Joe R.
Joe R.4 years ago

Very disturbing. Thanks.

LMj Sunshine


Holly E.
Holly E.4 years ago

I'm a theater/dance artist living in Seattle. I made an original musical about this topic in 2008. It's called The Exile Project and tells the story of one man's attempt to rebuild a life after serving a prison sentence. It addresses larger themes like "what is forgiveness" and "how do we forgive one another in our families and in society?." If you're interested in seeing the show, I do have a DVD version of it that I'm happy to share. You can contact me at Of course, I'd love to find the money to restage the show. It's one of those musicals that addresses a deep social topic with great music, dancing and storytelling.

Rodika B.
Rodika B.4 years ago

Unless it happens to you or your loved ones you don’t know what it feels like? If we don’t work on this together, to stop this growing business PRISON, more innocent people will serve 25 to 30 years. Please check Project Innocence website you will see how many people actually served that long and how many of them weren’t that lucky.

Ellie Damann
.4 years ago


Holly E.
Holly E.6 years ago

How does someone find a comment they made in the past regarding an article, to see if someone out there actually responded to their ideas. It makes this more than a place to talk to yourself. I made a comment at the very beginning of this article being published but cannot for the life of me find it again in the list of comments. Why? Could someone please explain this so I can better navigate this whole thing the next time an article captures my interest.

David T.
David T.6 years ago

Unfortunately it is our jobs as citizens and human beings to visit prisoners. I agree that there is poor sentencing but think of all the violent murderers and drug dealers that sell drugs to kids. There is more than just common thieves and drug abusers in prison. I believe that local teachers should try to set up optional classes for those willing to get out of that lifestyle. The government doesnt have to do everything you know. As citizens of America we need to act now. The problem is most people dont want to spend the time or leave their comfort zones to make someone else's life better. Act people!! Do community service!! Tutor low income kids. Help stop gangs!! It is in youth that criminals start. While our prison system is far from exceptional, a prison isnt supposed to be a hotel. It is punishment. Ultimately the problem resides in our community, justice system, and the failure to act.

Debra D.
Debra D.6 years ago

This information is so on line. It is about money, not about people. There are alot of people doing alot of time, time that dont fit the crime. Women are forced to work, for $.02 an hour, and are expected to be dedicated to a job that is slave labor. Its easy for people to sit on the outside and say they put their selves there, but each case is different. The health care is horrible, and are treated much like cattle going to slaughter. The biggest fault of this is the money generated and lining of pockets of the judges and elected officials. This is disgraceful and unacceptable, but i dont see it changing. What is sad, animal cruelty cases... these people all but walk on their crimes, think of the money gained if every person who hurt an animal was incarcerated and made to endure these conditions... Would deter these people. But animals dont line the pockets!!

Janice P.
Janice P.6 years ago

This is a GOVERNMENTAL responsibility. Taxpayers should not be on the hook for paying profits to a private company for doing what the government ought be doing. It's just another way for friends of the in crowd to feed at the public trough.