Throughout the '80s, these two groups parlayed their growing political strength to effect a takeover of the prison system. The progressive laws passed in the "70s were picked off, one by one. New laws were passed to criminalize a broader spectrum of behavior and make a prison sentence the first option for too many offenses.
The '90s saw the mass construction of new prisons to support the now-suspect criminology of "lock 'em up for as long as possible." Other special interest groups that profit from mass incarceration joined in the feeding frenzy while the guards' union purchased greater control of their putative politician employers. Legislation like the Prisoners' Bill of Rights, passed at the height of progressive thinking, were repealed in a heap of scorn and campaign donations.
At the start of the new millennium, crime victims sat on parole boards and prison wardens had to be former guards. The population of prisoners had exploded to its now world-leading levels along with the salaries of prison employees. The share of the state budget consumed by prisons had doubled and doubled again.
The studies documenting the massive failure of this behemoth system had also multiplied, and all came to the same basic conclusion: too many people doing too much time for too many petty offenses. The ex-governor who started the prison-industrial complex on its current course now chaired a panel that concluded it had been a huge, costly mistake.