A Look at the Number of Private Prisons Across the U.S.

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The existence of private prisons is a highly debated subject in the U.S. today. And while we are not going to get into the specifics of the debate, we did want to provide more insight into the presence of private prisons around the country. To do that, we conducted research to learn where the highest number of private prisons are located and what percentage of each state’s prisoner population is held in them. Read on to learn more about what we found. 

A Short History of Private Prisons in the U.S. 

Before we get started, we wanted to provide a short history of private prisons. The first private prison company, Corrections Corporation of America, was established in 1983 under the pretense of running a prison for profit. In 1984, the company started its journey by operating an existing county prison in Tennessee and, later that same year, opened its first facility in Houston, TX. Today, the private prison industry has grown substantially to include a total of 51 private prisons in operation in 16 different U.S. states. Additionally, the prisoner population in those private prisons has grown by 47% from 2000 to 2016 alone.

A Look at the Number of Prisoners Held in Private Prisons in Every State

The Number of Prisoners Held in Private Prisons in Every State

We reviewed data from the Bureau of Justice’s 2017 National Prisoner Statistics (NPS) Program to determine the percentage of each state’s private prison population. Overall, we found that 8.2% of the total U.S. prison population is held in private prisons and 26 states have at least some percentage of its prison population in a private prison.

Montana has the highest percentage of prisoners in a private prison with 38.1%, followed by Hawaii with 28.5% and Tennessee with 26.3%. On the opposite end of the spectrum, North and South Carolina have the lowest percentage of private prisoners with 0.1%. 

The Number of Prisoners Held in Private Prisons Relative to Each State’s Population

 

To provide an additional comparison into the volume of private prisoners in each state, we calculated the number of prisoners held in private prisons relative to its population. While Montana has the highest percentage of prisoners held in private prisons overall, Oklahoma has the highest number of prisoners held in private prisons per 10,000 residents. Montana has the second-highest number of private prisons per 100,000 residents with 134.13, followed by Arizona with 118.05. 

South Carolina and North Carolina also have the lowest number of private prisoners per 100,000 residents of states with some volume of prisoners in a private facility with 0.48 and 0.29, respectively.

Lastly, we looked at the number of private and state prisons in each state, along with the estimated capacity of each. The interactive table above allows you to sort through the data we found. The various views will give you a look into how states compare based on the four variables. 

Both Florida and Texas have the highest number of private prisons with a total of 7 each, compared to their 33 and 55 respective state prisons. Florida also has the highest estimated prisoner capacity in its private prisons with 9,945, followed by Arizona with 8,288. 

The Justice Department announced their plans to end the use of private prisons in 2016, a decision that was reversed a year later. As shown above, while there are far less private prisons than state prisons, there’s still a number of private prisons in operation across the country. We’ll be following along to see what the future holds for private prisons. At Summit Defense we defend a variety of crimes at our 8 office locations. Contact us today for a free case review.

Rabin Nabizadeh