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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. 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 seen more managed by some of the Big Bad of the company than the same 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 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 had 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.
  • The mini-series 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 that run it.

    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, the prison is run by the Men-Tel Corporation, which asserts that the prisoners are its property.
  • No Escape (1994): All prisons are private in the 2022 the film portrays, 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.)
  • Tales from the Hood 2 has a Corrupt Corporate Executive - Mr. Dumass Beach - that owns a chain of them, 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 (third book of The Stormlight Archive): 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 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 on 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.
  • Law & Order had an episode about a prison that, although not private as a whole, had 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.
  • 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 in 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 
  • 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.
  • Prison Architect: The entire point. 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 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.
  • The Simpsons:
    • The epilogue of the episode "The PTA Disbands" showcased 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). And 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 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.

    Real Life 
  • The Corrections Corporation of America was founded in 1983 with the stated goal of making prisons cheaper to run.
  • The 2008 "Cash for Kids" scandal involved a pair of Pennsylvania judges being tried and convicted of accepting bribes from for profit prisons to impose harsh sentences on juvenile offenders in order to increase the occupancy of said prisons.