Geo Group Inc. spent $60 million to expand a former juvenile prison in Baldwin, Mi., into a 1,755-bed facility meant to house illegal immigrants before deportation. The federal government pulled pack funding, leaving an empty fortress in the middle of rural Michigan, reports Newsweek. A similar scenario is playing out in places like California, Oklahoma, and Colorado, where private prisons now sit vacant. Some 11,600 of Correction Corporation of America's beds were unoccupied as of early May.
The beds are empty because state corrections agencies are crowding prisoners into more facilities as they do in California, or trying to make sentencing less harsh for nonviolent criminals. The private prison industry's reliable mix of housing state and federal inmates and illegal immigrants – a model that helped to fuel two decades of growth – is no longer a surefire way to get rich. “There are only so many places you can find people,” says Martin Horn, former corrections chief in New York City now at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Private corrections is under pressure to change its business plan, and as that happens, prison advocates worry that the industry and it's bottom-line approach will dominate other areas of the justice system.