Jill McCorkel
Contemporary Drug Problems, Volume 44, Issue 4, Pages 286-300
Publication year: 2017


Over the course of the last two decades, drug treatment programming has become increasingly privatized in the U.S. correctional system. Drug treatment and related rehabilitative and reentry services are a multi-billion dollar a year industry. In this article, I trace the origin of this transformation to an unlikely source: women’s prisons during the War on Drugs. Correctional facilities for women provided a useful testing ground for new models of carceral drug treatment at a time when rehabilitation was otherwise rejected by policymakers as too “soft” a response to crime and drug use. Gendered assumptions about punishment, rehabilitation, and addiction coupled with racial hierarchies governing punishment policies paved the way for private vendors to develop, market, and ultimately expand carceral drug treatment to a broad array of correctional venues and populations. To make this case, I analyze ethnographic data collected from one such private vendor and demonstrate how they utilized assumptions about gender and race to upend more traditional models of prison profiteering and pioneer the means through which rehabilitation could operate in service of profit.