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How Private Companies Are Making a Killing in the ‘Justice’ System

Nice work if you can get it.

At every step in our “justice” and prison system, from the monitoring of ankle bracelets to drug testing and the processing of simple fines, companies are making money.

When you add to that equation the private prison industry, which often guarantees to the states they reside in that beds will be filled every month, the result is big business indeed.


A few examples:

  • Global Tel-Link supplies phone and video call services to 2,400 federal, state, and local correctional facilities, which house approximately 1.3 million prisoners.
  • Three companies provide prescription drugs to more than 1 million prisoners: Correct Rx, Diamond Pharmacy services, and Maxor Correctional Pharmacy Services.
  • Aramark serves 380 million meals per year at correctional facilities across North America.

An an enterprising capitalist might ask, “What’s so wrong with these companies making a profit off prisoners?”

Plenty. In the case of Aramark, it provided dangerously unsafe and bug-laden food to some prisoners, and some of its employees smuggled drugs to prisoners and engaged in sex acts with inmates. In fact, Michigan just tossed Aramark out on its ear after these problems were revealed. Its new contract with a private prison food contractor will cost the state an extra $13 milliion, nearly wiping out the $15 million it had expected to save by contracting with Aramark in the first place.

It all adds up to big business. Massive, in fact.

When you add to it the political donations that these companies are providing to candidates … well, it’s easy to see why they’re getting some of the contracts that companies like Corrections Corporation of America and Aramark, among many others, are getting.

But the plot thickens.

The fastest-growing sector of the private prison industry? Immigration. Specifically, many of those seeking asylum here in the United States are housed in prisons that offer the same for-profit services listed above, and much more.

I spoke with Donald Cohen, executive director of In the Public Interest, which supplied most of the data for this story.

“This research underscores just how much private profit there is in every corner of our criminal justice system. Every dollar in profit for the private corrections industry is a dollar that could be invested in building a more moral and cost-effective criminal justice system. To strengthen safety and justice in our communities, we should spend that money on adequate staffing, quality healthcare, and training programs to prepare prisoners for productive lives when they are released.”

The below infographics were created by In the Public Interest, and they illustrate the various paths an individual can take in the criminal justice system, as well as each point at which corporations make money. There are also accompanying data sheets that list the corporations involved, if you wish to dig a little further.

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