Twenty-Four Numbers That Explain America’s Private Prison Problem

A Pacific Standard primer.
Author:
Publish date:
eed60-1eqfkmyrwv9zjrw61xmsrqa

In the twilight months of the Obama administration, the Department of Justice made an unprecedented announcement: The Bureau of Prisons would phase out the use of privately run contract prison facilities after inspectors concluded that those facilities were “both less safe and less effective at providing correctional services than those run by the government,” as the Washington Postput it at the time. The evaluation by officials should surprise no one: Research suggests that private facilities tend to keep citizens behind bars longer, and in worse conditions.

But the Trump administration doesn’t see it that way. On Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions effectively undid the Obama administration’s private prison plan, condemning the 10 percent of the federal prison population in private facilities to a for-profit carceral limbo. The reasoning? Barack Obama’s order “changed long-standing policy and practice, and impaired the Bureau’s ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system,” Sessions said in a statement Thursday.

Given the law-and-order rhetoric that’s underpinned Donald Trump’s regime since the opening days of the 2016 presidential campaign, it’s likely that mass incarceration will remain a point of contention between prison reform activists and the Trump administration. “Attorney General Sessions has shown that he is not taking the mass incarceration crisis seriously,” Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights chief Wade Henderson told the Los Angeles Times. “Continuing to rely on private prisons for federal inmates is neither humane nor budget-conscious. We need a justice system that can work better for all people.”

Just how bad is this crisis, and where do private prisons fit in? Here’s a rundown of the American prison-industrial complex, by the numbers:

  • 2.2: Current prison population in the United States, in millions.
  • 14: Percent of inmates incarcerated in federal prisons.
  • 1997: The year the Bureau of Prisons began working with contract prisons to alleviate overcrowding from mandatory minimums and stricter drug laws.
  • 639Expenditures, in millions, by the federal government on contract prisons in 2014.
  • 13: Percent increase in expenditures since 2011.
  • 25,251: Cost per capita, in dollars, in Bureau of Prisons facilities as of 2014.
  • 22,159: Cost per capita in contract prisons.
  • 28: Percent higher average of inmate-on-inmate assaults in contract prisons, compared with Bureau of Prisons facilities.
  • 5: Percent decline in the federal prison population during Obama’s two terms in office, according to the Pew Research Center.
  • 1981: The last year the federal prison population declined significantly.
  • 189,078: Number of federal inmates as of Thursday, February 23rd.
  • 12: Percent of federal inmates in privately managed facilities, totaling some 21,366 inmates, according to the Bureau of Prisons.
  • 14: Number of contract prisons currently utilized by the Bureau of Prisons.
  • 2: Major corporations that dominate the for-profit prison market—Corrections Corporation of America (now CoreCivic) and GEO Group.
  • 64: Detention centers, with more than 75,000 beds, operated by GEO Group in the U.S.
  • 1.84: Revenues, in billions, that GEO Group took in in 2015.
  • 95: Amount donated, in thousands, to pro-Trump Super PACs and the Trump presidential campaign by GEO Group, according to the Intercept.
  • 1.1: Total spending, in millions, by GEO Group during the 2016 campaign cycle, per OpenSecrets.
  • 518.4: Total spending, in thousands, by the GEO Group during the 2014 campaign cycle.
  • 250: Amount donated to Trump’s inauguration, in thousands, by CoreCivic, according to the Bureau of National Affairs.
  • 40: Percent jump in stock price for CoreCivic the day after Trump’s surprise election, per Bloomberg.
  • 30: Percent jump in stock price for GEO Group.
  • 65: Percent of Department of Homeland Security detainees held in privately run facilities each year, according to USA Today.
  • 11: Undocumented immigrants in the U.S., in millions, who could see themselves end up in those privately run facilities.

Related