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Problems with Private Prisons

Problems within the private prison industry are well-documented. Studies have found that private prisons have higher levels of violence, and prisoners released from for-profit facilities have higher average recidivism rates. Cost savings through prison privatization are elusive, as many costs are shifted back to the public sector, while "bed guarantees" in private prison contracts require government agencies to pay for empty private prison beds if population levels drop below a minimum threshold -- typically 90%. 

Private prisons lack transparency; on the federal level, for example, they are not required to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests, unlike federal detention facilities. Further, private prison firms engage in extensive lobbying on the local, state and federal levels, and make campaign donations to lawmakers and political candidates in order to further their corporate goals.

Private prisons are harmful to the prisoners they house, to their own employees and to local communities. They often fail to comply with their contractual obligations; for example, they fail to provide adequate staffing, sufficient rehabilitative programs for prisoners or adequate medical and mental health care.


Opposition to Private Prisons

Private Prison News is a project of the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the rights of people held in U.S. detention facilities, both public and private. HRDC believes that it is morally and ethically unacceptable to incarcerate people for the purpose of generating corporate profit, and seeks the abolition of the private prison industry. We do not believe the industry can be "improved" or "fixed," as its failings and deficiences are directly linked to its inherent need to generate profit. 

Our efforts to oppose for-profit prisons include:

  • Litigation -- We have filed over a dozen successful lawsuits against private prison companies, including wrongful death claims and First Amendment challenges to censorship of our publications by private prison officials. 
  • Transparency -- We have filed successful public records lawsuits in four states -- Florida, Texas, Tennessee and Vermont -- to ensure that private prison companies must comply with state public records laws, since they are the functional equivalent of a government agency when they operate prisons and jails. We also helped draft the Private Prison Information Act, federal legislation that would require private prisons housing federal prisons to comply with federal Freedom of Information Act requests.
  • Testimony and public education -- Our staff members testify before legislative bodies about prison privatization, and we speak at conferences, law schools and other events about the private prison industry.
  • Publishing -- Our monthly publication, Prison Legal News, includes extensive private prison coverage; we have also published an anthology of articles about the private prison industry, titled "Prison Profiteers."
  • Other projects -- In addition to Private Prison News, we maintain other projects related to the private prison industry, including the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, to reduce the high cost of prison and jail phone calls, and the Stop Prison Profiteering project, which challenges fee-based services that impose financial burdens on prisoners and their families, such as money transfer fees, video visitation fees and debit release cards.


For more information, please review the content on this site, including articles, legal briefs and publications related to for-profit prisons and the private prison industry.