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.”