Letters From Coalition of Policy and Religious Groups Call Selling Off State Prisons “a Tragic Mistake” That Could Add Debt to State Budgets
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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union and a broad coalition of 60 policy and religious groups today urged states to reject a recent offer by the nation’s largest private prison company to buy and privatize state prisons.
In a letter sent to governors in every state, the ACLU and 26 other organizations said a recent offer by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) to buy prisons currently run by state officials is a backdoor invitation to take on additional debt while increasing CCA’s profits and impeding the serious criminal justice reforms needed to combat the nation’s mass incarceration crisis.
Two similar letters are also being sent today by religious coalitions to governors. One of the letters, sent by 32 faith groups including the United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society, the United Church of Christ/Justice and Witness Ministries, the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness, says there is a moral imperative in reducing incarceration through evidence-based alternatives to imprisonment and re-entry policies that ease the transition of prisoners back into society. A third letter, from the Presbyterian Criminal Justice Network, argues that the principles of mercy, forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation are largely absent from the private prison industry.
“Selling off prisons to CCA would be a tragic mistake for your state,” the ACLU’s letter reads. “[CCA’s] proposal is an invitation to fiscal irresponsibility, prisoner abuse and decreased public safety. It should be promptly declined.”
Today’s letters come in response to a letter sent last month by CCA to officials in 48 states announcing what it is calling a “corrections investment initiative,” in which CCA is offering to purchase prisons from states so long as they contain at least 1,000 beds and the states agree to pay CCA to operate the prisons for at least 20 years and keep the prisons at least 90 percent full.
“It is unconscionable to line the pockets of private companies whose existence depends on the nation’s addiction to incarceration, a grave social crisis that exacts a huge toll on taxpayers while providing no public safety benefit and leaving a disproportionate number of people of color behind bars,” said David Shapiro, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project. “In order to reduce corrections spending, we need to commit to the systemic reform of our criminal justice system.”
The United States today imprisons far more people – both per capita and in absolute terms – than any other nation, including Russia, China and Iran. Over the past four decades, imprisonment in the U.S. has increased explosively, spurred by criminal laws that impose steep sentences even for low-level, non-violent offenses and curtail opportunities for probation and parole.
A copy of the ACLU’s letter, signed by organizations including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, The Sentencing Project, the NAACP and the Southern Poverty Law Center, is available online at:
A recent ACLU report on the private prison industry, “Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration,” is available online at:
The letter from the religious coalition is available online at:
The Presbyterian Criminal Justice Network letter is available at: