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You may not know much about it, but America has a shadowy system of for-profit prisons that exclusively hold noncitizens – nearly 23,000 in total. And about 40 percent of those inmates are serving time for immigration crimes, mostly crossing back over the U.S.-Mexico border after being deported.

Our upcoming episode, a collaboration with The Investigative Fund, explores this little-known prison system – and the sometimes deadly conditions inside. Read reporter Seth Freed Wessler’s investigation into how cost cutting is causing medical disasters for inmates.

Ahead of our show, we collected some recent reporting and research for background on the private prison industry’s rise. Have other suggestions? Send us recommendations on Twitter: @reveal. And stay tuned for our new episode, which lands on our podcast Monday. 


The story: “Five myths of the private prison industry,” from MuckRock

The gist: Private prisons have been justified as a cost-saving solution to prison overcrowding. But these facilities do not seem to be saving money or solving the issue of overcrowding. MuckRock’s Beryl Lipton looks at other common myths and misconceptions about the industry.

Key quote: “If private prisons are meant to hold overflow, then the continued existence of private prisons is in some measure a sign that we’ve failed to manage our incarceration on our own.” – Beryl Lipton, MuckRock


The story: “Warehoused and Forgotten: Immigrants Trapped in Our Shadow Private Prison System,” from ACLU

The gist: According to this report by the ACLU, the criminalization of immigration has led to a boom in the private prison industry, and insufficient oversight and accountability in these private facilities allow for inhumane treatment of inmates.

Key quote: “(Our families) don’t know that we suffer, that we’re not treated with respect, or that we sometimes lack food or blankets. We don’t tell our families. I just don’t want my kids to see me like this.” – Vicente, prisoner at Willacy County Correctional Center


The story: “How for-profit prisons have become the biggest lobby no one is talking about,” from The Washington Post 

The gist: In a commentary, Michael Cohen explains how the private prison system has been able to gain political influence through lobbying and direct campaign contributions.

Key quote: “With the growing influence of the prison lobby, the nation is, in effect, commoditizing human bodies for an industry in militant pursuit of profit.” – Michael Cohen, freelance writer for The Washington Post


The story: “Using Jailed Migrants as a Pool of Cheap Labor,” from The New York Times

The gist: Each year, tens of thousands of imprisoned immigrants in the United States are used for labor in the public and private detention centers where they are held, usually being paid $1 a day or less.

Key quote: “This in essence makes the government, which forbids everyone else from hiring people without documents, the single largest employer of undocumented immigrants in the country.” – Carl Takei, lawyer with ACLU’s National Prison Project


The story: “Border Jails Facing Bond Defaults as Immigration Boom Goes Bust,” from Bloomberg Business

The gist: Privately run correctional facilities near the U.S.-Mexico border are struggling financially as they fail to fill beds. Many of these detention centers were built to meet demand during a two-decade boom in immigrant inmates, but border detentions have slowed.

Key quote: “When all of a sudden at the stroke of a pen those folks are released to live, work and play in our communities, those beds are going to be vacant.” – A.J. “Andy” Louderback, past president of the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas


The story: “How US Private Prisons Profit from Immigrant Detention,” from Council on Hemispheric Affairs

The gist: A cyclic relationship between Congress (passing anti-immigration legislation), government agencies (enforcing that legislation), and private prison corporations (housing immigrant detainees) allows for these private prison companies to prosper and profit.

Key quote: “In fact, CCA (Corrections Corporation of America) believes that progressive immigration reform would greatly limit their main source of profit: immigrant detainees.” – Melanie Diaz and Timothy Keen, research associates at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs


The story: “Study finds private prisons keep inmates longer, without reducing future crime,”  from the University of Wisconsin-Madison

The gist: Inmates in private prisons are housed 60 to 90 days longer on average than inmates in public prisons, calling into question the efficacy of private prisons as a cost-saving solution.

Key quote: “If inmates sent to private prisons somehow serve longer terms, this undermines the very cost benefit that makes private prisons attractive relative to public prisons.” – Anita Mukherjee, assistant professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Wisconsin School of Business