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Private Profit Prison

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That may as well not be prison. It belongs to Hiram after all.

Hannah: According to the Title III warrant, Duvall was approved for its first ICE contract only about two years ago.
Gregorio: Business is booming for all these private facilities. It's a growth market.
Hannah: It's so hard to think about this as a for-profit industry.
Gregorio: It's big business. ICE can only do so much with the resources they have.

Any prison or jail under the control of someone other than the government for profit. Such a prison is usually owned by a megacorporation or any sort of large business.

In fiction privately operated prisons tend to get very negative portrayals. A prison setting is already pretty dark and then you introduce the possibility of a Corrupt Corporate Executive running it, with Human Traffickers as their Mooks. Prisons and corporations are both seen as dehumanizing and treating people as objects. Combining both can lead to a nightmare scenario.

Such prisons often go hand-in-hand with slavery, using the prisoners as cheap labor and Human Trafficking and not allowing them any other options. This is an especially common element in women in prison films as it helps to emphasize the sadistic and corrupt nature of the authorities while giving the prisoners something to do between shower scenes and erotic torture sessions. A common feature of a Privately Owned Society. May be connected to a Law Enforcement, Inc. If the existence of this prison is a secret, then you have a Black Site on your hands.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Deadman Wonderland has this as part of its premise. A privatized jail in Japan dolled up as an amusement park for the masses. Convicts are the entertainment, and one of the staff sometimes moonlights as a defense attorney to help "recruit" new talent. And then you get in to the hidden blood sport stuff that goes on behind closed doors for the really rich audience and clientele.

    Comic Books 
  • Most of the prisons seen in The DCU are managed by some of the villains who run companies, rather than the government. Famous DC prisons like Belle Reve, Arkham Asylum and Iron Heights are usually managed by characters like Amanda Waller, Dr. Sivana or Hugo Strange for their own profit, business or plans instead of what their own government states on them.
  • Issues 34 and 35 of the Invader Zim (Oni) comics feature Moo-Ping 10, a space station-based prison where you can pay to have your enemies imprisoned. Zim in particular is shown to use it just to get rid of people who he doesn't like (or in one guy's case, just looking like someone he doesn't like). Unfortunately for him, however, the aliens running the prison are also very strict about payments — when he falls behind on his (due to putting GIR in charge of them) they lock him up as well, forcing him to spend two issues trying to figure out how to escape.
  • Spider-Man:
    • After getting his body back after the Superior Spider-Man arc and coming into control of Parker Industries that started up in that time, Peter decides to create one of these to contain and eventually depower supervillains. His business partner, Sajani Jaffrey, finds this a futile endeavor that will drain all their money given how supervillain prisons usually work out.
    • A later arc has the Raft being bought out by Augustus Roman, who is secretly a villain named the Regent who uses Power Parasite technology to leech superpowers from the prisoners. His ultimate plan is to become powerful enough to capture all the superheroes as well so he can eventually execute all superhumans.
  • Tyler Cross: Tyler ends up locked up in Angola prison, with several pages of the warden discussing how he can make even more off of it, like buying even lower-quality food for the inmates and skipping on supplies (the state provides $0.40 a day, of which the prison spends $0.07). The prison's accountant is also a convict, sent there for murdering his wife and his lover and now in a relationship with one of the guards. The warden's wife also regularly rapes the inmates she takes a fancy to.
  • Welcome to Hoxford takes place in one that doubles as a Hellhole Prison for the worst of the worst and a People Farm for the werewolves who run it.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Christmas Tree: Mrs. Mavilda runs the orphanage similarly to this. She keeps the kids in rags and practically on a starvation diet just to keep the money. She even keeps a set of nice clothes around for them to wear just for inspections to cover up her schemes.
  • Shown rather horrifically in Wendell & Wild. The Klaxons run an enterprise of building private prisons, and make money off every prisoner they get. Their daughter Siobhan is under the mistaken assumption that private prisons are like fancy hotels, until she does some investigating and finds out how horrible they really are. She confronts her parents about how they treat the inhabitants of their prisons like rats, with horrid conditions, garbage food, and practically no decent medical resources. Her parents are actually proud of Siobhan for figuring this out, and think she's onboard with their plan to open up a new prison and fill it with at-risk children who will be denied every opportunity possible to ensure they become criminals and end up jailed, which will make them more money. The Klaxons are eventually jailed themselves after their numerous crimes, such as arson and murder, are exposed.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Archer: Bob runs a private reform camp to house delinquent girls. He's paid by the state to house them. It turns out he bribes a judge so the beds are always filled with girls being sent there.
  • Private prisons are a fixture of Death Race and its prequels. The prison runs the titular Death Race specifically to make the most money off of its convicts, and the prequels reveal they used to do gladiator-style bloodsports until the ratings dropped enough they were no longer sufficiently profitable.
  • Escape Plan: The Tomb is a for-hire prison staffed by Private Military Contractors. If you can pay, they'll snag your enemies and lock them up without trial.
  • In Fortress (1992), the prison is run by the Men-Tel Corporation, which asserts that the prisoners are its property. This includes the unborn children of female prisoners, as the movie takes place in a Bad Future with strict population control, where having more than one child is illegal. The children are confiscated at birth, and converted into the cyborgs deployed by Men-Tel.
  • All prisons are private in the 2022 portrayed in No Escape (1994), with the prisoners deemed assets for the corporations which run them. For the most dangerous prisoners, they have illegal prison Absolom, an island where they're dumped and left on their own except for supply drops.
  • The Running Man has a variation of this, convicts are put in to a maze filled with death traps and Stalkers who hunt them down. If they win (which they don't) they earn pardons, if they lose they end up dead (which they do). It's run by a Corrupt Corporate Executive TV Host style, with high ratings, advertisements, and prizes for the studio audience. (Note this only really applies to the movie version, not the original novel, where the main character volunteered for the show, nor does the show take place in a contained area in that version.)
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive Mr. Dumass Beach from Tales from the Hood 2 owns a chain of these, and is currently developing a robotic police force to make it easier to fill them up.

  • Hollow Places: Shore State Corrections deliberately creates a Hellhole Prison to foster recidivism among the inmates, and thus increase profits when they are inevitably reincarcerated.
  • The Jenkinsverse: The Celzi Alliance runs its POW camps this way, handing control over to private corporations so that the government can save money. The corporations then use the prisoners for cheap labor, but insist it's not slavery because the prisoners are "paid" in privileges and tokens. Adrian is pissed when he finds out. Of course, this also means that the corporations are invested in making sure the war runs as long as possible to maintain their bottom line.
  • The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds: A private prison CEO gives an impassioned speech about trying to reduce prisoner costs, painting it as a noble effort to save taxpayers money. Stephen points out that the much easier solution is to reduce the amount of prisoners (private prisons are infamous for lobbying to increase their prison populations). The CEO brushes this off as naive and segues into his scheme to put prisoners into VR prisons which will be much cheaper to run.
  • Oathbringer: One of the Skybreaker tests has the new recruits investigating a small private prison where the prisoners escaped and killed the guard on the way out. Note that this is considered "bleeding heart progressive" by the world's standards; they're still mostly at the stage where all criminals are executed as a matter of course. The recruits are told to hunt down the prisoners and bring them back dead or alive; the test proctors already have received writs of execution for all of them. Szeth realizes that the reason the prisoners were able to escape was because the prison was of shoddy construction with only one guard—the warden had been spending the absolute minimum amount of money and pocketing the rest. Szeth asks if he's allowed to execute the warden. The proctors tell him his writ of execution was the first one they received.
  • The Ship Who...: In PartnerShip, the factory that Polyon is assigned to uses prison labor to manufacture "hyperchips", which is a hazardous affair already. After he takes over, he removes all safety-related regulations and increases production considerably, at the cost of the prisoners — many of them innocent — frequently dying in various horrible ways.
  • Snow Crash: Like just about everything else in America, law enforcement and prisons have been privatized. When arrested by private police, they ask which prison she'd prefer to be taken to. Y.T. ponders her options of various cutesy-themed franchise prisons she could be taken to.
  • In the Sherlock Holmes novel A Study in Murder by Robert Ryan, Dr. Watson is a prisoner of war in a German camp during WW1 whose commandant makes a good profit getting his prisoners, many of them upper-class Allied officers, to pay for food parcels and other luxuries to be mailed to them. When Watson objects, the commandant points out that the neighbouring prison camp is a lot worse, given that the Romanian and Russian prisoners there are literally worked to death in the mines. Watson however suspects that this atmosphere of amoral exploitation has been taken to its logical conclusion, and several prisoners who have paid huge bribes to escape from the camp are actually being murdered.
  • The Sword of Shannara Trilogy: The final book, The Wishsong of Shannara, has the gnome prison of Dun Fee Aran; exactly who runs it isn't clear (beyond the fact that they're gnomes) but they have no loyalty to any nation or faction and it's explicitly stated that anyone can have their enemies locked up there, so long as they have the money to pay the wardens. Stythys, a secondary antagonist, pays to have Jair, one of the heroes, kept there after he captures him so he can study Jair's unusual magical powers in a controlled environment; luckily for Jair, his companions manage to bust him out.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Discussed in Adam Ruins Everything, when Emily gets sent to jail to await trial after being Mistaken for Junkie in an earlier episode. They do everything they can to keep their beds full, so they can't be sued by the corporation that owns them, and (partly as a cost-saving measure, and partly because of "tough on crime" rhetoric) their educational and vocational training programs are a thing of the past. Another prisoner is denied parole because of this.
  • The Brokenwood Mysteries: Brokenwood Women's is shown to be this. Corners are cut regarding security measures so that shareholders save money. The detectives soon discover that the CCTV cameras are just for show and the cell doors are easily unlocked by the prisoners themselves.
  • The Cape: Chess, in his civilian identity, is trying to privatize the prisons under his control so that he can exploit the prisoners. The first few episodes are about the Cape trying to delay this, usually by keeping Chess from assassinating the judges and politicians standing in his way.
  • Castle Rock: Sometime between The Shawshank Redemption and the start of the series, Shawshank was privatized. When the Kid is discovered, their first instinct is to cover up the wrongful imprisonment.
  • The Cold Case episode "Jurisprudence" has the team investigating the death of a juvenile inmate who it turns out was killed by the prison owner when he discovered the owner had bribed the judge at his trial to send him and several juvenile offenders to the prison. This episode was based off of the real-life "Cash for Kids" scandal mentioned below in the "Real Life" folder.
  • Criminal Minds: One episode features guards being killed within a privately owned prison. Though the warden is well-meaning, he's a businessman with no experience or desire to run a prison leaving him in over his head, and his requests for more manpower and better technology are ignored due to costing too much. The BAU team never actually figures out who exactly killed the guards, but their investigation reveals the motive: all but one of the guards were complicit in a prisoner Fight Club that ultimately led to the death of a relatively innocent petty criminal, which the guards covered up by faking a transfer and incinerating the body with their trash.
  • An episode of CSI: NY involved a Juvenile Hell prison that paid kickbacks to a well-known Hanging Judge so he would sentence juvies to go there so the prison would justify asking for additional (secretly mis-spent) funding from the Department of Corrections. This scheme was finally discovered when the judge was assassinated in a drive-by shooting and, once the apparent leads to it being a hit by The Mafiya turned out to be a Red Herring, the investigators found the real perpetrator: one of the prison's former inmates, who had his life completely destroyed and was deeply traumatized by his stay, because the judge had sent him there as "punishment" for stealing a pack of chewing gum.
  • One episode of Law & Order is about a prison that, although not private as a whole, has privatized its healthcare. This leads to a dangerous schizophrenic inmate not being properly treated in order to cut costs. He subsequently murders someone immediately after his release, and the DAs must ensure the person responsible for his care is held to account.
  • Leverage: Nate ends up in a prison like this in the season 3 premiere. It turns out Nate was maneuvered into the prison to see if he could take down the Corrupt Corporate Executive that owned it, which of course he did.
  • Motive: In "Chronology of Pain", a respected judge is murdered. The team discovers that when she was a juvenile court judge, she accepted kickbacks to give out harsher sentences and send juvenile delinquents to a privately owned "rehabilitation camp". The man running the camp was a sadist who tortured the kids he did not like.
  • In season 3 of Orange Is the New Black, the main setting, Litchfield Federal Correctional Institution, is sold to private investors to prevent its closing. Several cost-cutting measures (such as prepackaged meals) are instituted in short order, and the inmates are able to apply for jobs making lingerie for the investors' business. They're paid far below minimum wage, but still much better than the jobs in prison operations.
  • Queen Sugar: In season 3, the Bordelons uncover a plot by the Landrys to force farmers off their land so that land can be used to build a private prison in the parish.
  • Riverdale:
    • Late into the second season, this is revealed to be the purpose of Hiram Lodge's mysterious SoDale project, for which he greatly devalued the already impoverished Southside to acquire the land cheap. He admits to Archie the profits it will create will ensure his family's fortunes for generations, and sells it to the people by claiming it will restore law and ensure greater safety following the Black Hood murder spree. However, it turns out to only be the tip of the iceberg of his ambitions.
    • The third season has the prison named the Lodge Detention Center. Despite being apprehended by the FBI, he's able to get good food and get some of the guards to implicate his wife in a murder incident.
  • S.W.A.T. (2017): The team was called in to deal with a riot in a privately operated state prison. They soon discovered that the corporation has been Cutting Corners left and right. The prison is overcrowded and its infrastructure unmaintained. The prisoners are made to work in sweat shops. To make the situation worse, experienced guards have been replaced with cheaper new employees who have barely any training. Even the model prisoners are ready to rebel and the prison's vicious gangs are using the riot as a distraction for their own schemes.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In one Dilbert story arc, Dogbert turns Dilbert's house into a for-profit prison.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Lockdown from Mutants & Masterminds is an Extranormal Prison run by a company called American Security Concerns, which is actually a front for a criminal organisation called the Cartel. They use the prison to recruit supercriminals, while providing them with a perfect alibi; they're already in jail!
  • Pyramid vol 3 #93 had an article called "Super-Max" about a company called International Incarceration Incorporated, which also creates private Extranormal Prisons. III is utterly horrific; they hire sadistic guards with no regard for human rights (the prison inspectors have surprise inspections, but somehow they never seem to actually come as a surprise), have a secret black site that even the wardens never come back from, one of the directors is secretly selling inmates with interesting powers to unethical scientists, and another is feeding them to an Eldritch Abomination.

    Video Games 
  • BioShock 2: Persephone was originally one of these; Ryan was too convinced of his utopia to build prison facilities into Rapture, so Agustus Sinclair created one himself for the inevitable undesirables who would crop up. By the present, however, he's been overthrown by Sofia Lamb, who uses it as her base of operations.
  • Freelancer: Liberty Police Inc. are very interested in maintaining their prison workforces.
  • In Mass Effect 2, Jack is found on board a Prison Ship run by the Blue Suns mercenary company. They not only take prisoners on board for a fee, but occasionally they threaten to unleash the inmates on a planet or station when their budget is tight, thus extorting money from the local government. The prisoners are not treated well either, with Shepard coming across a guy getting beaten by the guards. And to top it all off, Warden Kuril, the guy who runs this ship, also makes a tidy profit in selling select prisoners as slaves, which Shepard and company do not take kindly to. He also tries to abduct Shepard, which they take even less kindly.
  • This is the entire point of Prison Architect. You manage a prison, trying to make it as profitable as possible. The prison riot tutorial is ultimately started by a violent prisoner discovering this fact; he then kills your CEO for taking bribes to keep prisoners behind bars to make more money.
  • Sunless Sea: Wisdom Prison works like this. They do pay you for every prisoner you drop off, but their ransom fees are exorbitant (be it in cash or valuable secrets) and escape is not much of an option either, so they make a profit nonetheless and are kept well informed by all who need to drop off dangerous prisoners, from simple mutineers and outlaws to Khanate spies and Unfinished Men. Those prisoners that are never ransomed off are fed to the Knot-Oracles outside, which will speak out their deepest secrets over the next few days or so, keeping the Governor running the whole thing (a top-class intriguer) even more well informed.

  • The titular "school" in Joe vs. Elan School is described as part private profit prison and part cult. The narrator repeatedly notes that the school requires a yearly tuition of tens of thousands of dollars for each inmate, meaning multiple souls being tortured there amounts to millions of dollars of profit for its owner and administrators. To that end, the school itself decides when the program ends for a student, and they are not averse to Moving the Goalposts to make a bigger profit.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • The epilogue of "The PTA Disbands" showcases Springfield Elementary becoming one of these in order to provide money to raise the budget — which meant psychotic killers and violent robbers sharing the classroom space with innocent kids (and Bart). The teachers don't care one bit.
    • Parodied in "The Great Louse Detective", which shows in a quick gag that the federal maximum-security prison that houses Sideshow Bob is sponsored by Campbell's Soup.
    • In "The Seven-Beer Snitch", the town of Springfield builds a concert hall to show Shelbville they're not a bunch of hicks. When it fails, Mr. Burns buys the hall and turns it into a prison. To increase profits, he persuades Mayor Quimby and Chief Wiggum into enforcing Loony Laws.
  • In The Spectacular Spider-Man, Norman Osborn starts getting contracts to build specialized prisons for super villains after they're caught. He's also the one who made the super villains in the first place, so he is most certainly not on the up-and-up.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In "The Krusty Slammer", Krabs turns his restaurant into a prison not only because a cop offered him money to do so but also because otherwise the lack of space in the regular prison would save Plankton for serving time after being arrested for vandalism. When Krabs takes in other inmates, he still wants to keep his restaurant, so he tricks his patrons into thinking it's a prison-themed restaurant. He later realizes he must either let the inmates live in luxury or let them disturb the patrons and tries to save money by releasing them before their time is up. When he's arrested for it, Krabs is sent to a prison ran by Plankton.

    Real Life 
  • The Corrections Corporation of America was founded in 1983 with the stated goal of making prisons cheaper to run.
  • The 2008 "Kids for Cash" scandal involved a pair of Pennsylvania judges, Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella, being tried and convicted of accepting kickbacks from for-profit juvenile detention centers in exchange for imposing harsh sentences on juvenile offenders in order to increase the occupancy of said detention centers.
  • This practice is an old one. In medieval Europe prisons were often privately run and owned. The rich prisoners were allowed to pay for nice quarters and treatment. Poor ones however were forced to beg passersby just so they'd be fed while living in small damp cells with very limited light.