Confronting the Prison-Industrial Complex

Monday, November 5, 2018

Philanthropists can help address over-incarceration in America and the serious harm it does to communities by supporting efforts to better understand and confront the network of companies that currently profit from the US prison and detention system—what criminal justice experts call “the prison-industrial complex.”

With 2.3 million people in confinement and nearly three percent of its population under some form of correctional supervision, the United States imprisons far more of its people than any other country. Mass incarceration in the United States harms both individuals and communities and is a significant driver of racial inequality, even while it often fails to advance the public safety objectives it purports to serve.

Mass incarceration is also big business. Skyrocketing incarceration rates in the United States have turned the criminal justice system into a multi-billion dollar industry, with $80 billion in government spending on incarceration in 2013 alone. A network of thousands of companies profits from mass incarceration, ranging from the companies that operate private prisons to the subcontractors that provide prisons with telecommunications, transportation, food vending, and many other goods and services.


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