The Color of Corporate Corrections

The Color of Corporate Corrections:
The Overrepresentation of People of Color in the For-Profit Corrections Industry1

Christopher Petrella2 and Josh Begley 3

While data collected and maintained by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and state departments of corrections (DOC) have long demonstrated the prevalence of persistent racial disparities in incarceration4, no comparative study until now has illuminated the racial composition of select state-contracted, private prisons around the country. 5

Our conclusions reflect a rigorous multi-level analysis of the latest U.S. Census demographic figures available through the Prison Policy Initiatives Correctional Facility Locator 2010 cross referenced with count sheets, inmate population directories available on state DOC websites, and statistical information procured through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). 6 Datasets were accessed from August-October 2012 and analyzed in November 2012.

We selected California, Texas, and Arizona for this study because they warehouse some of the largest numbers of inmates in private, for-profit prisons in the nation. Our sample size is large and reliable. Taken together, California, Texas, and Arizona account for over 1/3 of all prisoners housed in private facilities around the country. Although people of color7 are already overrepresented in public prisons relative to their state and national population share8, our research indicates that people of color are further overrepresented by roughly 12 percent in state-level correctional facilities operated by for-profit, private prison firms. This over-representation of people of color in for-profit, private corrections institutions should be a matter of deep public concern.

The private prison industry has arguably represented an experiment in racialization from its very inception. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA)--the nations oldest and largest for-profit company which now controls 43 percent of the private corrections market--received its first contract in 1983 from the now defunct Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS), an agency primarily responsible for regulating the movement of bodies of color. 9 This trend continues today. According to stipulations articulated in a 2007 CDCR memorandum, the state of California prioritizes previously deported inmates and/or inmates with active or potential ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) holds--a policy that disproportionately affects people of color--for involuntary transfers to out-of-state private facilities. 10
[INFOGRAPHIC: The Color of Corporate Corrections]

Our sense is that applying privatization to the most vulnerable and politically marginalized racial groups allows state DOCs and the private prison industry to externalize costs without facing legitimate public backlash. The overrepresentation of bodies of color in private prison facilities suggests that communities of color are seen as unworthy of taxpayer supported public investment. That is, relative to for-profit correctional institutions, people of color are disproportionately siphoned away from public facilities, precisely the types of facilities that provide the most educational, pro-social, and rehabilitative programs.11

Instead, the overrepresentation of people of color in private, for-profit facilities--facilities with strikingly few rehabilitative programs relative to public corrections institutions--suggests that the containment of people of color, relative to non-Hispanic, whites, functions primarily as a source of profit extraction. Whereas the primary objective of public corrections agencies is the promotion of public safety through rehabilitation, private prison firms are first accountable to their shareholders. Companies like CCA are legally obligated to increase shareholder value, an imperative that inherently compromises any deep commitment to rehabilitation, social re-entry, or recidivism reduction.

Our study also raises larger questions about the relationship between race and democracy. A substantial overrepresentation of people of color in facilities controlled by for-profit firms suggests that people of color are excluded from traditional national conceptions of the commons and therefore remain unable to participate fully in this nations democratic experiment.

The following pages of charts and graphs (Figures 1-6) were created by Radical Criminology in order to visually present the dataset submitted by Christopher Petrella & Josh Begley. These statistics break down the composition of the prison population in both public and private facilities of three US states. [As stated, [d]atasets were accessed from August-October 2012 and analyzed in November 2012.] Please look for our next issue for an updated, extended dataset, along with further research and analysis.            -Editor-

Though research pertaining to the racial composition of private prisons is still emerging, were confident that our findings will generate substantive discussion on the relationship between race and prison privatization in the United States. Above all, were hopeful that research like this--limited as it is--will inspire policies aimed at eliminating the for-profit corrections industry, an industry that disproportionately commoditizes people of color and subjects them to the whims of the highest bidder.

[Figure 1. Arizona Public Facilities ]
[Figure 1.1. Arizona Public Facilities: Total
[ Arizona Private Facilities ]
[Figure 2.1. Arizona Private Facilities: Total
Total Arizona Overrepresentation
(Private Facilities, Persons-of-Color):


[California Public Facilities]
[Figure 3.1. California Public Facilities: Total
[California Private Facilities]
[Figure 4.1. California Private Facilities: Total
Total California Overrepresentation
(Private Facilities, Persons-of-Color) as Percentage:


[Texas Public Facilities]
[Figure 5.1 Texas Public Facilities: Total Population]
[Texas Private Facilities]
[Figure 6.1 Texas Private Facilities: Total Population]
Total Texas Overrepresentation
(Private Facilities, Persons-of-Color) as Percentage:


Total Overrepresentation of Persons-of-Color in Private Prisons, in Arizona, California and Texas, as a Percentage:


1 This research report was submitted to both Prison Legal News and Radical
. It first appeared in Prison Legal News and can also be
accessed at An updated version of The Color of Corporate Corrections study will appear in the next issue of Radical Criminology (#3), based on new information received from FOIA requests. In it, Christopher Petrella extends the examination of racial disparities in public vs. private prisons to include a large sample of U.S. states--19 in total--that incarcerate 500 or more adult men in secure and confined facilities managed by for-profit firms.

2 Christopher Petrella is a doctoral candidate in African American Studies at U.C. Berkeley. His dissertation is entitled Race, Markets, and the Rise of the Private Prison State. Learn more at

3 Josh Begley is a graduate student in Interactive Telecommunications at NYU. You can follow him on Twitter (@joshbegley) or learn more at

5 In order to avoid artificially inflating the over-incarceration of people of color in for-profit prisons we intentionally excluded data from federal detention facilities controlled by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS), as well as detention facilities managed at the local level. For this same reason, we strategically excluded data for transfer centers, work release centers, community correction facilities, special treatment centers, reception centers, and any facility with a population under 500 persons.

7 Although racial designations are always imprecise, elusive, and subject to revision, we appropriated U.S. Census Bureau racial categories for the purposes of this study to preserve nomenclatural, and therefore statistical, fidelity in our cross-referencing efforts. People of color here are defined as Black, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and non-white Hispanic or Latino.

8 People of color comprise 61 percent of Californias population yet account for 75 percent of the states public prison enrollment. In Texas, people of color comprise 55 percent of the states population yet account for 66 percent of the public corrections population. And finally, people of color comprise 43 percent of Arizonas population yet account for 60 percent of the states public prison share.


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