Complex Facts

The United States spends more on prisons and incarcerates more people than any other industrialized country in the world.

By Patrisia Mac?as Rojas Sep 10, 1998

Prisons and Poverty: A Nation in Crisis

The United States spends more on prisons and incarcerates more people than any other industrialized country in the world. Over 5 million are in prison, on parole or probation, or are incarcerated in INS detention centers. Between 1971 and 1992, public spending on prisons alone jumped from $2.3 billion to $31.2 billion. Altogether, corrections spending is growing at a faster rate than Medicaid, higher education, and Aid to Families with Dependent Children. In 1995, prison building expenditures jumped by $926 million while university construction dropped by $954 million.

Prisons and Profit
Prisons soak up over $32 billion while generating billions of dollars in profit for big business. Corporations are receiving a growing proportion of our tax dollars to operate private prisons and provide services. Between 1987 and 1996, the number of inmates in private prisons jumped from 3,122 to 78,000. The prison industry generates an estimated $40 billion a year.

Who Profits?

  • Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is the largest private prison corporation in the world.
  • American Express and General Electric invested in private prisons in Oklahoma and Tennessee.
  • AT&T, Sprint, and MCI charge inmates and their families as much as 6 times the normal cost of a long-distance call within the U.S.
  • Chevron, TWA, and Victoria’s Secret use prison labor to do data entry, book telephone reservations, and make lingerie at 23 cents an hour.
  • UNICOR, the federal prison industry corporation, uses inmates to make recycled furniture at $40 a month for a 40-hour work week.
  • The Oregon Prison Industries manufacture “Prison Blues” blue jeans which it promotes with an ad showing a young Latino inmate saying, “I say we should make bell bottoms. They say I’ve been here too long.”

Prisons and Social Control: Who goes to prison?

The so-called “War on Drugs” has made poor people, people of color, women, youth, and undocumented immigrants the primary targets of the prison industrial complex.

  • In 1994, one in three black men between the ages of 20–29 were in prison, jail, on probation or on parole. In 1995, 47% of state and federal inmates were black, the largest group behind bars. Black men were 7 times more likely than white men to be in prison.
  • In 1993, Asians, Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and Alaskan natives made up 2% of prison population. Native Americans are 10 times more likely than whites to be imprisoned.

  • Latinos are the fastest growing group behind bars. Between 1985 and 1995, Latinos jumped from 10% of all state and federal inmates to 18%.
  • In 1993, whites made up 74% of the general population, but only 36% of federal and state prison inmates.
  • In 1970 there were 5,600 women in federal and state prisons. By 1996, there were 75,000. 60% of that population are black and Latina.
  • In 1995, 45% of state prison inmates were unemployed at the time of their arrest. The rest reported an income of less than $10,000.
  • In 1993, the overall incarceration rate for juveniles was 221 per 100,000; for Latino youth it was 481 per 100,000; and for black youth it was 810 per 100,000. Juvenile arrests fell by 4% in 1995, but only after a 64% rise in the previous 7 years.
  • 25% of federal prison inmates will be deported after serving their sentences.

  • In 1992, the number of undocumented immigrants detained by the INS was 82,326. This does not include the 30,000 Haitian refugees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba that year. In addition to 9 INS detention centers and 5 private contract facilities, the INS has contracts with 900 state and local jails to provide detention centers.

This simple fact sheet is dedicated to Jorge Vargas, Little Julio, Marty Mendoza, Junior Perez (R.I.P), Pedro Macías and countless others who have been f-over by the system.