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Expand chart
Data: Bureau of Justice Statistics; Cartogram: Chris Canipe/Axios

Since the first private prison opened in 1984 in Tennessee, for-profit incarceration has ballooned into a $5 billion industry. In 2017, 121,420 people — about 8% of the U.S. prison population — were housed in private facilities, but the share is much higher in some states.

Why it matters: Private prisons tend to hire fewer guards than state and federal prisons and often are more dangerous.

  • A spokesperson for private prison firm GEO Group told Axios the company's services comply with federal standards as well as third-party accreditors’ guidelines.
  • Still, private institutions had 28% more inmate-on-inmate assaults than their public counterparts, according to a 2016 Justice Department report.

By the numbers:

  • The 2017 prison population is slightly (4%) smaller than it was in 2015.
  • The states with the highest share of inmates in private prisons were Montana (38.1%) and Hawaii (28.5%).
  • Texas and Florida together housed 24,404 inmates in private prisons.
  • A population of zero in the above chart indicates no prisoners were held in private prisons at the end of the year in 2017. But those states could still have such facilities, per the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The bottom line: The private prison industry has boomed under the Trump administration. 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Obama pushed an executive order to end the Justice Department's reliance on private facilities, but President Trump rescinded the order once he took office.

  • Since then, the stocks of the two biggest private prison companies have surged: CoreCivic is up 56% to $22.78 and GEO Group is up 46% to $23.02.

Go deeper: This story was originally published in 2017 and has been updated with recent data.

Go deeper

1 hour ago - Science

COVID time warp

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The start of the COVID-19 pandemic seems like a lifetime ago to some, and just yesterday to others. Scientists are beginning to unpack the way people processed the passage of time amidst the stress, uncertainty and isolation of the 1 year, 8 months and 21 days since WHO declared a pandemic.

Why it matters: The pandemic's global effects on how people experience time could provide new insights into the brain's ability to perceive and predict time — a fundamental feature of life.

Mitt Romney calls Ray Dalio's China investments a "sad moral lapse"

Sen. Mitt Romney walks to a Senate Republican caucus meeting at the Capitol on Oct. 7. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on Thursday criticized billionaire Ray Dalio's investments in China, writing in a tweet that "his feigned ignorance of China's horrific abuses and rationalization of complicit investments there is a sad moral lapse."

Driving the news: Romney's comments come after Dalio's firm, Bridgewater Associates, the largest hedge fund in the world, raised $1.3 billion in November for a new private fund in China, Bloomberg reports.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: First known U.S. case of Omicron variant identified in California — America probably won't lead the effort to understand Omicron — CDC prepares tougher testing rules for international travelers.
  2. Politics: Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come — Meta removes accounts linked to COVID disinformation effort by China.
  3. Vaccines: Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating world — Omicron fuels the case for COVID boosters — Moderna loses patent battles tied to COVID vaccine.
  4. World: Germany approves new restrictions for unvaccinated people — Omicron variant detected in more countriesWHO advises people 60 or older to postpone travel due to Omicron
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.