Discovery Guides Areas


The Drain of Public Prison Systems and the Role of Privatization:
A Case Study of State Correctional Systems

(Released February 2010)

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  by David W. Miller  


Key Citations



1980s to the Present


Private prisons for profit remained unconstitutional for nearly a decade until Public Law 96-157, passed by Congress in 1979, implemented the Private Sector/Prison Industry Enhancement Program (PIE-Program). The PIE-Program allowed states to sell prison-made goods across state lines for a profit. The program required that inmates were paid a comparable wage, that portions of the profits were used to compensate victims, and that the program was used to teach inmates work skills. In short, the PIE-program was initially used by public prisons as a vocational treatment program and as a means to increase public prison revenue. Thus, the legislation itself did not legalize privately run prisons, but it did open the gateway for states to determine if private prisons could operate in their borders (Herraiz, 2004). Thus, the PIE-Program is known as the legislation that made it possible for private organizations to provide correctional services previously operated by public facilities.

For the first few years after the legislation's passage, private prisons did not emerge in the correctional field as actual physical sites. Texas was the first state, in 1983, to allow private organizations to run some of its correctional facilities, followed by Florida and Tennessee. In less than a decade, the popularity of prisons-for-profit had grown exponentially. In 1984 only three states had privatized some of their prisons; however, by 1994 thirty states contracted with private organizations to house some of their inmates, while the private prison population grew from 20,000 to over 140,000 within a decade. Lastly, the number of sites significantly increased. For instance, Cheung (2002) writes, "As of December 2000, there were 153 private correctional facilities (prisons, jails and detention centers) operating in the United States with a capacity of over 119,000." Additionally, California began with one private prison in the 1980s, and by 2005 had 22 sites, topped only by Texas, which during this same time-frame had increased from one site to 42 sites by 2005 (Price, 2005).

CCA Uniform
Currently CCA, the oldest private corrections company, runs 60 prisons and jails, housing close to 60,000 prisoners, making it the sixth largest operator of prisons after the states of Texas, California, New York, and Florida, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Wackenhut, the second largest privatized prison company, operates close to 50 facilities worldwide. Although it is a smaller corporation than CCA, it has a larger jurisdiction due to its global nature. Cornell is one of the rare systems that focus on intense rehabilitation services for its inmates, providing individual and group counseling, life skills, vocational training, and substance abuse treatment. Due to shifting its focus to provide intense rehabilitation services, Cornell has lost its placement as a major provider of privately operated prisons. According to the Cornell Company website, this private organization operates a majority of community service adult programs, and youth (juvenile offenders) and family services. The company operates 68 facilities in 15 states, and is committed to "ensuring public safety and supporting sound public policy through the operation of safe and secure environments within both institutional and community settings" (Cornell Facilities). This claim is analyzed further in the following section on accreditation.

Go To A Further Examination of Accreditation

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