Treatment Industrial Complex

Via Grassroots Leadership

Over the last 30 years, private prison companies have capitalized on growing rates of incarceration in the United States and abroad. In particular, companies such as GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) have often been able to influence prison, immigration detention, and sentencing policy to ensure their interests are met. New prison reform and smart on crime policies that encourage reduced incarceration rates and prioritize community alternatives to detention are threatening corporate profit margins. Given these new industry threats, GEO Group, CCA, and a new conglomerate of prison companies are looking for new sources of profit.

While the prison industrial complex is dependent on incarceration or detention in prisons, jails, and other correctional institutions, this emerging “Treatment Industrial Complex” or TIC allows the same corporations to profit from providing treatment-oriented programs and services. This includes moving to capitalize on efforts at the state and federal levels to look at alternatives to prison, a softening of criminal sentencing laws, and a new interest in evidence-based practices in parole, probation, and sentencing.

The Treatment Industrial Complex includes the privatization of 1) psychiatric care facilities and civil commitment facilities for individuals convicted of violent sexual offenses, 2) mental and medical health care in prisons where private contracts manage close to a third of the care and 3) community corrections. The community corrections component is a particularly promising profit source given that it includes a variety of treatment services historically delegated to probation and/or parole, halfway houses, day reporting centers, home arrest, surveillance, and electronic monitoring. Overall, two-thirds of individuals involved in the criminal justice system are under some sort of community supervision, not behind bars.

Given that private prison corporation’s bottom line is to make a profit, this oftentimes results in significant cuts to staff and much need services. The repercussions of these detrimental practices are evidenced in the abysmal track records of these companies whose histories are spotted with numerous instances of abuse, neglect, death, and lawsuits. Allowing these private prison companies to operate treatment programs increases the likelihood that these instances of abuse will continue and that the degree of quality care would decrease due to significant spending reductions. More importantly, profit motive incentivizes keeping people under supervision. This is in direct contradiction with and discourages sound efforts at treatment.

As a result, this emerging Treatment Industrial Complex has the potential to ensnare more individuals, under increased levels of supervision and surveillance, for increasing lengths of time—in some cases, for the rest of a person’s life. In November 2014, Grassroots Leadership released a report in collaboration with American Friends Service Committee and Southern Center for Human Rights provides in-depth insight into the nature of this growing phenomenon. See the full report here. 

Grassroots Leadership believes that no one should profit off the incarceration of human beings.  We also believe that turning over treatment and community services to for-profit prison corporations is the wrong way forward. Through advocacy, coalition building, and connection to on-the-ground movements, we are committed to putting a halt to the expansion of private prison profits into new and broader treatment based markets.


InCorrect Care: A Prison Profiteer Turns Care into Confinement, Cate Graziani and Eshe Cole, March 2016.

The Treatment Industrial Complex: How For-Profit Prison Corporations are Undermining Efforts to Treat and Rehabilitate Prisoners for Corporate Gain, Co-Published with Caroline Issacs (American Friends Service Committee) and Southern Center for Human Rights, November 2014.

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