prison industrial complex


variants or less commonly prison-industrial complex
: the profit-driven relationship between the government, the private companies that build, manage, supply, and service prisons, and related groups (such as prison industry unions and lobbyists) regarded as the cause of increased incarceration rates especially of poor people and minorities and often for nonviolent crimes
The exploitation of prison labor by private corporations is one aspect among an array of relationships linking corporations, government, correctional communities, and media. These relationships constitute what we now call a prison industrial complex. The term "prison industrial complex" was introduced by activists and scholars to contest prevailing beliefs that increased levels of crime were the root cause of mounting prison populations. Instead, they argue, prison construction and the attendant drive to fill these new structures with human bodies have been driven by ideologies of racism and the pursuit of profit.Angela Y. Davis
The prison-industrial complex involves U.S. for-profit prisons and their influence in American politics, she [Christia Mercer] said.Will DeMarco
[Eric] Schlosser's crucial findings are that the prison-industrial complex is a set of bureaucratic, political and economic interests that encourage increased spending on prisons, regardless of actual need.Molly Ivins
As many have argued, the prison industrial complex is an engine of inequality through the disproportionate incarceration of both poor people and people of colour …Corinne Mason and Shoshana Magnet

Examples of prison industrial complex in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Even just talking about the wellness industrial complex, which obviously parallels the prison industrial complex. Hazlitt, 25 May 2023 The show’s theme is that what happens in the prison industrial complex affects those of us on the outside as well as the people inside. Karen Kaplanscience and Medicine Editor, Los Angeles Times, 21 Feb. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'prison industrial complex.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1977, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of prison industrial complex was in 1977

Dictionary Entries Near prison industrial complex

Cite this Entry

“Prison industrial complex.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Dec. 2023.

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