After last week's announcement that the U.S. Department of Justice would no longer be making use of privately run detention facilities, the discussion has quickly turned to the vast influence that private prison interest groups have on our political system. The DOJ's report slammed private prisons on their lack of safety, their correctional ineffectiveness and costliness. In Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates' own words: “They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security[…].”

The announcement sparked a series of articles on the lobbying efforts led by the largest private prison groups - the GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) - to keep the industry alive, ensuring future government contracts and pushing for stricter sentencing to keep prisons full. The $4.8B industry was built on the assumption that private prisons would save taxpayer dollars, a claim that has been put into question by a variety of studies: private prisons have been found to cost just as much as their publicly run counterparts, charging state and federal governments a rate per inmate, per day, plus a minimum fee, and therefore having a vested interest in keeping their facilities filled to the brink.

These groups have also publicly stated that leniency towards non-violent drug users and undocumented immigrants could "potentially reduce demand for correctional facilities", thereby impacting their revenue. Many have pointed to private prisons' vested interest in keeping inmate populations above a given threshold as a key factor driving the 'war on drugs', a set of policies that impose mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug users, which have resulted in a 700% spike in state prison populations over the past three decades.

So who are for-profit prisons supporting on the federal and state level? Who are the politicians benefitting from a system that has long been known to profit off of the incarceration of non-violent offenders, while providing what the DOJ considers costly and ineffective services? Find out next.

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