Acton Institute Powerblog

Is Prison Now An American Industry?

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Last week on the Acton PowerBlog, Anthony Bradley raised the issue of the war on men, specifically the high rate of imprisonment among men in the United States.  At one point in time, America acknowledged that prison might be a place of rehabilitation rather than simply the warehousing of criminals (read Ray Nothstine’s work on Angola Prison to see that rehabilitation in prison is possible.)

Catholic blogger Mark Shea interprets the high rate of imprisonment as a sign of the de-Christianization of our culture: we’ve de-valued life, and slavery becomes acceptable. The infographic below shows that prison – no longer rehabilitative and no longer warehousing – is profitable. Prisoners are cheap labor and big business. Rather than tending to criminals, visiting the imprisoned and helping men and women who’ve committed crimes become better people, we’re using them. It might be a money-maker, but is it just?

Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.


  • Michael Brennen

    A life sentence prisoner we have known for years commented that the commercialization of prison, and prisoners as a commodity, evokes the words of Revelation 18:13:

    11 “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because
    no one buys their cargoes any more– 12 cargoes of gold, silver, precious
    stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every
    sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly
    wood, bronze, iron and marble; 13 cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of
    incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour
    and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and bodies and souls
    of men” (the original NIV; the NASB reads “…and slaves and human

    When I heard that I was astonished; it seems chillingly accurate.