At Prison Trade Show, Vendors Hawk ‘Stuff’ to Wardens


The New York Times visited the exhibitors' hall at the conference of the American Correctional Association, held in Indianapolis last month, where 264 vendors hawked goods at what is essentially a trade show for the prison industry. It is the shiny, customer-friendly face of a fairly grim business. The A.C.A. accredits jails and prisons and is also the country's largest association for the corrections field, with a membership filled with wardens and state and county correctional administrators.

The convention is where those people window-shop. The United States currently imprisons about 2.2 million people, making it the world's largest jailer. Those in charge of this immense population need stuff: food, gas masks, restraints, riot gear, handcuffs, clothing, suicide prevention vests, health care systems, pharmacy systems, commissary services — the list goes on. These outlays are a small fraction of the roughly $80 billion spent annually on incarceration. For prison vendors, this would appear to be a historically awful moment, with sentencing reform gaining momentum. In Indianapolis, the Times found, “nobody seemed giddy. Concern about sentencing reform was in the air, but more than a few vendors seemed to regard the trend as a business opportunity.”

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