The Treatment Industrial Complex: How For-Profit Prison Corporations are Undermining Efforts to Treat and Rehabilitate Prisoners for Corporate Gain

Co-Published with Caroline Issacs (American Friends Service Committee) and Southern Center for Human Rights, November 2014.

Over the last 30 years, for-profit prison corporations, such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corporation), have benefited from the dramatic rise in incarceration and detention in the United States. Since the advent of prison privatization in the early 1980’s, the number of people behind bars in the US has risen by more than 500 percent to more than 2.2 million people.1 Meanwhile, the number of people held in immigration detention centers has exploded from an average daily population of 131 people to over 32,000 people on any given day.

Private prison corporations have profited from, and at times contributed to, the expansion of tough-on-crime and anti- immigrant policies that have driven prison expansion. This confluence of special interests and profit-driven policy making has been referred to as the “prison industrial complex.”

This brief describes the expansion of the incarceration industry away from warehousing and into areas that traditionally were focused on treatment and care of individuals involved in the criminal justice system--prison medical care, forensic mental hospitals, civil commitment centers, and ‘community corrections’ programs such as halfway houses and home arrest.

While the prison industrial complex was dependent on incarceration or detention in prisons, jails, and other correctional institutions, this emerging “treatment industrial complex” allows the same corporations (and many new ones) to profit from providing treatment-oriented programs and services. This includes moving to capitalize on efforts at the state and federal levels to look at alternatives to prison, a softening of criminal sentencing laws, and a new interest in evidence-based practices in parole, probation, and sentencing.

As a result, this emerging Treatment Industrial Complex has the potential to ensnare more individuals, under increased levels of supervision and surveillance, for increasing lengths of time—in some cases, for the rest of a person’s life.

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