The 1980s were a good time to get into the incarceration business. The prison population was skyrocketing, the drug war was heating up, the length of sentences was increasing, and states were starting to mandate that prisoners serve at least 85 percent of their terms. Between 1980 and 1990, state spending on prisons quadrupled, but it wasn’t enough. Prisons in many states were filled beyond capacity. When a federal court declared in 1985 that Tennessee’s overcrowded prisons violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, CCA made an audacious proposal to take over the state’s entire prison system. The bid was unsuccessful, but it planted an idea in the minds of politicians across the country: They could outsource prison management and save money in the process. Privatization also gave states a way to quickly expand their prison systems without taking on new debt. In the perfect marriage of fiscal and tough-on-crime conservatism, the companies would fund and construct new lockups while the courts would keep them full.
A long investigative piece that is well worth your time.