How mass incarceration became ‘a business opportunity’ in America

Erwin Oropesa

This is part 1 of Yahoo Finance’s Illegal Tender podcast about the for-profit prison industry. Listen to the series here. 

Mass incarceration in the U.S. grew over decades as more politicians with tough-on-crime stances became elected to office and laws changed surrounding sentencing. 

In that environment, the private prison industry became a place to generate a lot of revenue.

“A lot of these criminal laws were changed with the political support of individuals who supported the private prison corporation because they saw a business opportunity,” Amy Fettig, executive director at The Sentencing Project, told Yahoo Finance’s Illegal Tender podcast. “They saw the incarceration, the denial of freedom of our fellow Americans, people in our community as a business opportunity.”

A boy carries cash to visit his mother at California Institute for Women state prison in Chino, California May 5, 2012. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

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