A special report on the industry around U.S. incarceration

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Deep Dive - Criminal Justice

Special report: Profiting from prison

Illustration of an inmate with a barcode on the back of his uniform
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.

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.

By the numbers: U.S. incarceration and spending

Data: Prison Policy Initiative, Brookings Institute; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

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. Still, the U.S. incarcerates people at a higher rate than any other country — 655 people for every 100,000 of the population.

The latest: This comes as many cities and states have enacted various criminal justice reform measures to combat mass incarceration. Even Congress passed a bill that eased certain sentencing guidelines and instituted new rehabilitation programs in federal prisons.

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