Louisiana, home of one of the world’s highest incarceration rates, is hosting the American Correctional Association (ACA) winter conference in New Orleans this week, reports the International Business Times. the ACA says it is the largest gathering of U.S. corrections personnel. While the conference offers several dozen educational workshops and panels about reforming the criminal justice system, its trade show offers a peek into the sprawling private industry around incarceration. Men and women stand by their companies’ booths, wearing polo shirts adorned with their logos, handing out free pens, tote bags and brochures.
The convention is closed to the public, and the customers on the trade show floor are mostly prison wardens, jail officials and directors from state corrections agencies. The exhibitors are there to make their pitch for a slice of the $80 billion U.S. incarceration industry. In many states, sheriffs and wardens manage vastly overcrowded facilities, scraping by on meager budgets, and they look to private companies to help pay the bills. They may do this by taking commissions on revenue from goods sold to inmates, everything from phone calls and commissary goods to e-cigarettes. Crossbar, maker of “prison-safe” e-cigarettes, advertised at the ACA. The company says, “CrossBar products will help generate revenue and increase profit margins necessary to help support your correctional facility in its efforts to continue the operation of various inmate programs.”