This article describes the major role played by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the country’s largest private prison company, in proposing and drafting what became the notorious Arizona Senate Bill 1070. The language and the title of the bill drafted at a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meeting last December were virtually entirely preserved in SB 1070. CCA, along with other major prison companies and lobbyists, including the Geo Group and Management and Training Corporation, have major representation in ALEC, and 30 of the 36 co-sponsors of the bill received donations from these companies and lobbyists after the December meeting.

This article discusses the economics of the private prison industry, and how it generally exhibits the logic that the incentive to build more prisons leads to legislation and policies that produce more arrests, sentencing and detention, or prisoners– not the other way around. At a time when the practical extension of this logic seems to be exhausting itself even in the eyes of its proponents, immigration detention presents a promising new market and growth opportunity.

As the ACLU recently reported, “private prisons for adults were virtually non-existent until the early 1980s, but the number of prisoners in private prisons increased by approximately 1600% between 1990 and 2009. Today, for-profit companies are responsible for approximately 6% of state prisoners, 16% of federal prisoners, and, according to one report, nearly half of all immigrants detained by the federal government. In 2010, the two largest private prison companies alone received nearly $3 billion dollars in revenue, and their top executives, according to one source, each received annual compensation packages worth well over $3 million.” This analysis further questions the conventional assumption that local economies stand to gain from the growth of private prisons, since new prisons may drain local resources without offsetting these costs, obstruct possibilities for other types of local job creation, and because profit-incentives lead to more violent prison conditions, among other things.