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.
- For-profit prison companies arose in response to the government's incapacity to handle the skyrocketing incarcerated population.
- Now entrenched, they've become "one more hurdle" to changing the American system of mass incarceration, Lauren-Brooke Eisen of the Brennan Center for Justice told Axios.
- These companies have been known to cut corners — sometimes endangering people — to profit off of the system.
Here's how they make money:
📞 Phone calls
About 80% of inmate calls go through Secarus and GTL, both owned by private equity and known for sometimes charging outrageous fees ($8.20 for the first minute, in one case cited in a lawsuit).
🚑 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.
- Pricing: Corizon was paid $15.16 per incarcerated person per day for medical staffing in Arizona's prisons, before being accused of cheating state monitors and losing the account to another private company.
🍔 Food services
Two companies — Aramark and Trinity Services — provide meals in about 800 state and local facilities.
- The Michigan Department of Corrections awarded a $145 million contract to Aramark, then fired the company for everything from "meal shortages to maggots in the kitchen," and replaced the company with Trinity at an annual cost of $158 million.
- Problems persisted under Trinity, causing Michigan to abandon privatized food services in its kitchens.
🚗 Transportation services
Tennessee-based Prisoner Transportation Services is the largest provider of transportation for jails and prisons.
- PTS typically charges about $1 per adult per mile.
- In the past several years, 14 women claimed to have been sexually assaulted by transportation guards and at least four people have died while being transported in PTS vehicles, per the Marshall Project.
👕 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.
- While these items aren't generally marked up, people in prison make very little money to afford what they need.
- Keefe Group and Bob Barker Company specialize in producing secure items as well as supplying cell furniture, guard equipment and supplies.
What’s next: With bipartisan attention focused on fighting high recidivism rates, for-profit prison companies are expanding their businesses beyond prison walls.