Laura I Appleman

Volume 75, Issue 4, 913-976

Who is accountable for the imposition of punishment in our carceral system? The answer used to be much simpler, as we held local, state, and federal government actors responsible. In recent decades, however, our correctional system has become increasingly privatized, with deeply troubling results. All aspects of the carceral state—whether prisons, jails, juvenile detention, rehabilitation, forensic hospitals, bail, or electronic monitoring—have dramatically increased their use of privatized correctional services.

With this new world of privatized corrections, we frequently don’t know whom can be held accountable when wrongdoing occurs. The bulk of our correctional services are now provided by complicated web of private entities, some of them large and publicly held, some owned by private equity. I dub them “Big Capital.”

Big Capital has invaded the carceral universe. Almost every aspect of correctional control has been outsourced to private companies somewhere. The normalization of private equity firms and enormous correction corporations partnering with public carceral institutions has resulted in a failure of basic incarceration services. Although private prisons, prison labor for private profit, and privatized services for inmates are nothing new, Big Capital’s recent infiltration into the carceral state has no historical parallel.

This Article seeks to uncover these companies’ incursion into the realm of public corrections and detail the disastrous results for those under correctional control. In so doing, I also explain why allowing complicated private entities to control our carceral system has made matters far worse, violating fundamental U.S. philosophies about punishment and rehabilitation, creating conflicts of interest, undermining democratic legitimacy, and ultimately corrupting the administration of justice.