A few businesses are involved in almost every aspect of prison life, taking in billions of dollars every year for products and services, often with little oversight, Axios reports. Taxpayers, incarcerated people and their families spend around $85 billion a year on public and private correction facilities, bail and prison services, says the Prison Policy Initiative.
For-profit prison companies started in response to the government’s incapacity to handle the skyrocketing incarcerated population. They are “one more hurdle” to changing the system of mass incarceration, says Lauren-Brooke Eisen of the Brennan Center for Justice. About 80 percent of inmate phone calls go through Secarus or GTL, both owned by private firms and known for sometimes charging outrageous fees ($8.20 for the first minute, in one case).
The largest private provider of prison medical services is believed to be Corizon Health, operating in 220 facilities in 17 states and owned by a New York City hedge fund. Corizon was paid $15.16 per incarcerated person per day for medical staffing in Arizona’s prisons, before being accused of cheating state monitors and losing the account to another private company.
Two companies — Aramark and Trinity Services — provide meals in around 800 state and local facilities. Michigan awarded a $145 million contract to Aramark, then fired the company for everything from “meal shortages to maggots in the kitchen,” and replaced it with Trinity at an annual cost of $158 million. Problems persisted, causing Michigan to abandon privatized food services. Tennessee-based Prisoner Transportation Services is the largest provider of transportation for jails and prisons.
In 2016, it priced services to Nevada at $1.05 per mile, with higher rates for minors or those with mental disabilities. The minimum trip fee was $350. For-profit companies are expanding beyond prison walls, running re-entry programs, providing ankle bracelets and other monitoring devices for parole and probation, and operating immigrant detention.