The prison industrial complex (PIC) refers to the interconnected set of economic, political, and social factors that have led to the rapid expansion of the prison system and the use of imprisonment as a primary solution to social, economic, and political problems.
Activist Angela Davis popularized the term in the late 1990s.
The PIC comprises various elements, including private prison companies, prison labor, the criminal justice system, law enforcement agencies, courts, and correctional institutions. The PIC is driven by the interests of these various actors, who benefit from the expansion of the prison system, whether through increased profits, jobs, or political power.
Critics of the PIC argue that it contributes to mass incarceration, particularly of marginalized communities, and that it perpetuates racial and economic disparities in the criminal justice system. They also claim that it leads to the criminalization of poverty, mental illness, and addiction and that it creates a “feedback loop” of criminalization, incarceration, and recidivism.
Additionally, the PIC is also criticized for taking away resources from alternative solutions for addressing crime and social problems, such as education, healthcare, and social services, and for the exploitation of prison labor.