They’re major players in corporate America. Companies operating inside a $74 billion industry.

What are they selling? Prison cells.

They contract with dozens of states and the federal government to house inmates and undocumented immigrants. The industry has been around for decades, but conditions are ripe for a major expansion.

“As states are being increasingly crunched for space, facing very strong or very large deficits, they need to find ways to reduce costs, and so this is one way that they can help solve budgetary problems,” David Muhlhausen, a research fellow with the Heritage Foundation, said.

Muhlhausen said private prisons offer savings to governments of about 3 percent and reduce prison overcrowding, which is a major problem for many jurisdictions.

It’s a savvy business model, but the practice of contracting the caging of humans to private companies operates under a thick cloud of controversy.

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