The development of the modern private prison industry in the last three decades has been a continual source of controversy and debate, as Americans struggle to reconcile the principles of profit and justice. While there are many explanations proffered for the adoption of this policy --- including partisanship, economic stress, unionization, and lobbying efforts by private prison firms --- none fully explain why states privatize their prisons. Captive Market proposes a novel explanation for why states adopt this policy: to limit legal and political accountability for inmate lawsuits, an unintended consequence of the legal rights revolution for prisoners. Evidence from an original dataset and interviews with private prison companies, government officials, and advocacy groups suggest that growing prisoner lawsuits are a significant driver of prison privatization in the United States in the last three decades. With over 160,000 inmates currently held in private facilities across the country, it is vital to understand the causes of its rise and the nuances of private prison policy, one with significant consequences for the American criminal legal system.
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