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Two Weeks of Protests Start Tomorrow! 30 Years of For-Profit Prisons Is Nothing to Celebrate

Carl Takei,
Former Senior Staff Attorney,
ACLU’s Trone Center for Justice and Equality
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May 6, 2013

Join us tomorrow in Washington, DC to protest the Corrections Corporation of America or follow the protest on Twitter @ACLULive.

At its annual shareholder meeting next week, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) will celebrate thirty years of incarcerating people in its for-profit prisons. This gives the company the dubious distinction of being the oldest for-profit prison company in modern America. And it's why the ACLU is working with civil rights organizations, labor, faith-based groups, and immigrant rights advocates to organize anti-CCA events around the country from now through their May 16 shareholder meeting in Nashville. Our message is clear: Thirty years of for-profit prisons is nothing to celebrate!

CCA's inaugural year was hardly confidence-inspiring – as illustrated by a stunning video hosted on CCA's own website. Two of the company's founders (Thomas Beasley and T. Don Hutto) begin the video by admitting they didn't even own a prison when they used their connections to snag a federal contract for immigration detention. And then they chuckle as they describe how they solved the problem: lease a local motel, hire friends and relatives to work as guards, and lock 87 immigrants inside the guest rooms.

Thirty years later, CCA's 67 prisons and detention centers no longer include hastily-converted motels, and CCA claims to run "the highest quality adult corrections company in the United States." But just in the past year, the company has been plagued by deadly riots, immigrant detainee suicides, and financial penalties from state auditors. Additionally, the company continues to use sharp tactics to maximize its profits, such as their recent decision to restyle themselves as a tax-exempt real estate trust – a move that they expect will slash about $70 million from the taxes they would have otherwise paid in 2013. And last month, CCA admitted that its employees had falsified nearly 4,800 hours of staffing records at a violence-plagued prison it runs in Idaho, billing the state government for security posts that were actually left vacant.

CCA admits that their current profitability depends on high rates of incarceration. In their 2012 10-K report, filed publicly with the Securities and Exchange Commission, CCA describes drug law reform, immigration reform, and reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes as "risk factors" that could hurt their bottom line.

Join us tomorrow for the kick-off protest at CCA's "Correctional Treatment Facility" in Washington, DC. This annex to the DC Jail is a highly visible example of the human costs of CCA's successful influence-peddling just two miles away, in the U.S. Capitol. Although CCA insists that it does not engage in "lobbying or advocacy efforts that would influence enforcement efforts, parole standards, criminal laws, and sentencing policies," the company spends heavily on both lobbying and campaign contributions. From 2002 to 2012, the company spent a total of more than $19 million lobbying Congress, and its PAC expended more than $1.4 million on candidates for federal office over the same time period. As a result, CCA has garnered numerous federal contracts and defeated multiple attempts to make private prisons subject to the same transparency requirements as public prisons.

The ACLU stands with our allies to affirm that the criminal justice system should not serve as a revenue stream for prison profiteers. And we take heart in knowing the movement against for-profit prisons is growing every day. The same day that we'll be protesting CCA in Washington, DC, the Florida college students who launched a campus movement and stopped their football stadium from being named after a for-profit prison company will rally for accountability at the annual meeting of GEO Group, the nation's second-largest operator of for-profit prisons. This rising tide of activism gives me hope that thirty years from now, there won't be any for-profit prison companies left to commemorate the unwise and disastrous experiment with prison privatization that CCA launched thirty years ago. That would truly be something to celebrate!

Click here for more information about anti-CCA events around the country from now through their May 16 shareholder meeting in Nashville.

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