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🎬 Today's Axios AM is a special Deep Dive edition looking ahead to tomorrow's episode of "Axios on HBO" (6 pm ET/PT).
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
A handful of American businesses have their fingers in almost every aspect of prison life, raking in billions of dollars every year for products and services — often with little oversight, Stef and Dan write.
The big picture: Taxpayers, incarcerated people and their families spend around $85 billion a year on public and private correction facilities, bail and prison services, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.
Here's how they make money:
📞 Phone calls
🚑 Medical services
The largest private provider of medical services to prisons is believed to be Corizon Health, operating in 220 facilities in 17 states and owned by a New York City hedge fund.
🍔 Food services
Two companies — Aramark and Trinity Services — provide meals in about 800 state and local facilities.
🚗 Transportation services
Tennessee-based Prisoner Transportation Services is the largest provider of transportation for jails and prisons.
👕 Clothes, toiletries, etc.
Incarcerated people and their families spend an estimated $1.6 billion every year on commissary items such as toiletries, clothes and games.
What’s next: With bipartisan attention focused on fighting high recidivism rates, for-profit prison companies are expanding their businesses beyond prison walls.
Following decades of a rapidly growing prison population, the percentage of Americans in prison is the lowest it has been in more than 20 years.
Since the first private prison opened in 1984 in Tennessee, for-profit incarceration has ballooned into a $5 billion industry, Erica writes.
Why it matters: Private prisons tend to hire fewer guards than state and federal prisons and often are more dangerous.
The big picture: In November 2016, President Obama pushed an executive order to end the Justice Department's reliance on private facilities, but President Trump rescinded the order once he took office.
Go deeper: Read Erica's full story here.
The lights of downtown Los Angeles shine behind a Quick Bail Bonds building across from the Men's Central Jail. Photo: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Why it matters: Poor people already are more likely to end up in the criminal justice system. While it serves as a means of ensuring defendants appear for trial, bail can further penalize poverty.
"People should be in jail because they are a menace to society, because they are not going to show up for court. They should not be in jail because they're broke."— Larry Krasner, Philadelphia district attorney, tells "Axios on HBO"
People who can't afford to pay bail face waiting in jail — sometimes for months — until their court hearing, paying a bondsman a fee to cover their bail or pleading guilty and receiving time served or probation.
The big picture: Krasner last year ended cash bail for most low-level, non-violent crimes in Philadelphia, which led to a 22% decrease in the number of people who spent at least one night in jail, according to one study.
Poverty drives the U.S. criminal justice system and therefore the prison industry, Stef writes.
By the numbers: In the eight years leading up to incarceration, about half of people in prison had no income, according to a 2018 study by Brookings. Less than 10% made $25,000 or more in any one year over the same period.
Marijuana plants lined up in a driveway. Photo: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post/Getty Images
Fast-forward: The approach to illicit drug use is shifting from criminal punishment to addiction treatment — largely due to the opioid crisis, which has disproportionately impacted white Americans.
Incarceration rates are beginning to fall, but big, for-profit prison companies have a growing line of business: immigrant detention.
By the numbers: As of November 2017, 71% of detained immigrants were being held in private detention facilities, according to government data obtained by the National Immigrant Justice Center, Stef writes.
Between the lines: These privately run detention centers often hire fewer staff or require less training, Randy Capps, director of research for U.S. programs at the Migration Policy Institute, told Axios.
The other side: If private prisons did not hold immigrants, they would likely be sent to local jails, which often struggle to meet the federal government's detention standards, according to a GEO Group spokesperson.
Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images
A look inside: At a local strawberry festival about 50 miles west of Washington, D.C., Virginia's Department of Corrections showcased produce grown by incarcerated people on local, government-owned farms.
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