In any given year, 13 million people pass through the U.S. detention system, which includes federal and state facilities; Native American, juvenile, military and local jails; U.S. detention centres overseas and holding centres operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Elsie Scott, president of the Black Congressional Caucus, said at a press conference in D.C. earlier this year that the bill for housing prisoners was astronomical - at nearly 68 dollars a day per person.
In her book ‘The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness’, Michelle Alexander writes that even with crime rates on the decline, the U.S. prison population quintupled in just two decades, between 1980 and 2010.
It would seem that the case for reducing incarceration rates could not be stronger - especially for taxpayers and state and federal governments.
However, one group of people has a vested interest in keeping prisons as full as possible - the private prison corporations and their shareholders.
According to a recent report by the Justice Policy Institute, the U.S.’s two largest private prison companies - Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group - pocketed collective annual revenues of 2.9 billion dollars at the close of 2010.