Out of Control Policy Blog

Prison Privatization Grows in America

A recent report from The Pew Center on the States says that one in every 100 American adults is behind bars today. Between 1987 and 2007 the national prison population has nearly tripled from 585,084 to 1,596,127. Pew also estimates another 723,131 inmates in local jails, putting the total U.S. prison population over 2.3 million–more than any other nation on Earth.

As Reason reported in its Annual Privatization Report 2008, Florida had the highest rate of prison growth in 2007, up 4.5%, while California decreased its inmate population nearly that much. The percentage of state budget spending on prisons has also grown dramatically in the past few years according to the Pew study. Oregon comes in at the top of the list, committing 10.9% of its budget to corrections. Florida and Vermont share second at 9.3%, with Colorado (8.8%) and California (8.6%) rounding out the top five. Virginia has made great strides according to the Pew Study, having reduced its corrections spending 8.1% in the past 20 years to 6.7%, one percentage point below the national average.

The increasing general prison population has spurred growth in the private corrections sector. Total capacity in private facilities has nearly reached 200,000 beds across 312 institutions in 35 states and the District of Columbia. According to the Association of Private Correctional and Treatment Organizations, as of June 2008 at least 24 states (including DC) have capacity for 1,000 or more prisoners across their various facilities. Texas is the largest state contracting out to private firms for corrections services with 79 different facilities with a total capacity of 57,011.

For more information about privatized corrections operations see the Public Safety section of APR 2008 and the Corrections and Prisons page on our website.

Anthony Randazzo is Director of Economic Research


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