Between 1970 and 2005, The U.S. prison population grew by a massive 700%, far outpacing both population growth and crime rates. Today it's got to the stage where America is home to 5% of the world's population, but 25% of the world's prisoners. Not only does America have the highest imprisonment rates of any country in the entire world, but it also has the highest rate of youth incarceration. Over 130,000 juveniles are detained in the U.S. every year, and on any given day there are more than 70,000 youths in detention.
The term "Prison–industrial Complex" (PIC) is derived from the "military–industrial complex" of the 1950s, and is used to describe the attribution of the rapid expansion of the US inmate population to the political influence of private prison companies and businesses that supply goods and services to government prison agencies for profit. The most common and prominent agents of the PIC are corporations that contract cheap prison labor, construction companies, surveillance technology vendors, companies that operate prison food services and medical facilities, private probation companies, lawyers, and lobby groups that represent them. Activist groups such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) argue that the PIC perpetuates a flawed belief that imprisonment is an effective solution to social problems such as homelessness, unemployment, drug addiction, mental illness, and illiteracy.
The term 'prison industrial complex' has also been used to describe a similar issue in other countries' prisons of expanding populations. The portrayal of prison-building/expansion as a means of creating employment opportunities and the utilization of inmate labor are cited as particularly harmful elements of the prison-industrial complex as they boast clear economic benefits at the expense of the incarcerated populous.