The prison industrial complex (PIC) is the intricate network of companies and investors profiting from America’s broken incarceration system and the millions of incarcerated Americans it exploits, as well as the legislators and governmental systems that enable them.
While many people are familiar with private prisons, which profit per prisoner at steep costs to the American taxpayer, the PIC extends to many other players: companies who sell goods and services at exorbitant prices to incarcerated people; companies who pay extremely low (or no) wages for prison labor; and financial institutions that invest vast sums in the PIC. Operators, prison labor profiteers, and goods providers all throw millions of dollars at lobbyists, who make exploiting the incarcerated easier – and more profitable.
Operators As of 2015, about 8% of all state and federal prisoners were held in private prisons – nearly 130,000 people.1 In a report last year, the Federal Bureau of Prisons found that private prisons were seriously deficient, often reporting higher numbers of assault, more contraband items and more frequent lockdowns.2 The major players are Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, both publicly traded, and the privately owned Management and Training Corporation. Providers Incarcerated people can buy a variety of goods and services – for prices sometimes up to 5 times higher than what non-incarcerated people would pay.3 Phone companies charging $15 for a short call or food companies charging $5 for a box of cereal “operate as monopolies within prison walls,” enabling them to exploit incarcerated individuals and their families. There’s also a huge industry dedicated to providing goods and services to prison operators, including healthcare, security technology, and for-profit bail services. Prison Labor A clause in the 13th Amendment allows for slavery when someone has been duly convicted of a crime, allowing prisons to force incarcerated people to work, with none of the rights and protections of free workers. This can mean working for less than $0.30 an hour while the government agency that manages inmate labor, UNICOR, earns millions in revenue.4 Lobbyists All of these players – operators, providers, prison labor profiteers – hire lobbyists in Washington to push their agenda: more inmates to make, buy and use their products and services. One of the lobbying firms best known for pushing ‘tough on crime’ bills at the state and federal level, designed either to increase incarcerated populations or to keep people incarcerated longer, is American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. ALEC will even ghostwrite bills for congresspeople, and they funnel corporate donations to incarceration-friendly politicians.5
Making a Difference
But who’s funding it all? Big banks of course, but also, you. Many of these companies are publicly owned and traded, which means your retirement account could be funding the prison industrial complex, and your wealth could be built on the exploitation of incarcerated peoples. OpenInvest is proud to offer the first method for divesting your investments from companies profiting from America’s penal system. With just a click, you can:
- Divest from GEO Group and CCA, the biggest public private prison operators
- Divest from companies on ALEC’s private advisory council
- Divest from companies profiting from prison labor
- Divest from banks that fund private prisons
- Invest in companies committed to employing the formerly incarcerated
GEO Group and CCA were reinvigorated by the Trump administration, anticipating highly favorable treatment and legislation. Vote with your money to begin dismantling the prison industrial complex.
What Else Can You Do?
- Donate your spare change to help people incarcerated because they cannot pay bail with the Appolition app
- Find resources to encourage your city to divest from prisons
- Have your employer join 70MillionJobs’ platform to hire formerly incarcerated folks