On a cold November afternoon, Harriet Cleveland, a forty-nine-year-old mother of three, waved me over from the steps of her pink cottage in Montgomery, Alabama. She was off to her part-time job as a custodian at a local day-care center, looking practical but confectionary: pink lipstick, a pastel yellow-and-pink tunic, and dangly pink earrings. We’d need to start walking soon, she explained. The job, which paid seven dollars and twenty-five cents an hour, was the only one she’d been able to find for some time, and was four and a half miles away. As we set off beneath loblolly pines, she recounted the events that had led me to her doorstep: her arrest and jailing for a string of traffic tickets that she was unable to pay. It was, in part, a story of poverty and constraint, but it was also a story of the lucrative and fast-growing “alternatives to incarceration” industry.
Some investors have begun to turn their attention to extra-carceral institutions, such as private halfway houses, electronic monitoring, “civil commitment” centers for sex offenders, and for-profit residential treatment facilities. Private-prison corporations themselves have begun to expand into the “alternatives” industry. The GEO Group now has an array of “community reëntry services” and treatment programs. In 2011, it acquired the country’s largest electronic-monitoring firm, BI Incorporated, for four hundred and fifteen million dollars.