Date of Award

Spring 2018

Document Type

Open Access Thesis


College of Arts & Sciences



Degree Name

History, BA

First Supervisor

Joel Davis, Ph.D.


mass incarceration, war on drugs, private prison industry, detention centers


Over the past thirty years the prison population in the United States has rapidly increased to the point that the U.S. now has the largest prison population in the world. How did this happen? Through research, this thesis will argue that mass incarceration is a direct result of the war on drugs and tough on crime policies dating back to the 1970’s. These policies largely targeted the urban poor and minorities. With a rapid increase in the prison population during 1980’s, state governments began to look to the private sector for a more cost-effective alternative. Private prison companies started with immigration detention centers and later gained state contracts. After multiple scandals ranging from escapes, violence, and neglect these companies backed away from state contracts. They returned to immigration detention centers bringing with them all they had learned from operating prisons.

Included in

History Commons