Executive Director, ColorOfChange.org
The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, and the private prison industry is making a killing off this broken system. For-profit prison companies get paid for each person that fills their cells — raking in $5 billion in annual revenue.1 Empty beds mean lost profits, so to keep the money flowing the industry spends millions lobbying the government to expand the destructive policies that keep more people behind bars for longer, harsher sentences.2
Tragically, one-third of all Black men will spend part of their lives in prison.3 Meanwhile, for-profit prisons promote and exploit mass incarceration and racial-bias in the criminal justice system — further accelerating our nation's prison addiction. We can stop this. The prison industry depends on corporate backers for the capital it needs to keep growing,4 and allies in government for contracts that fill their prisons. If we convince enough investors and board members to leave the industry, we can discredit incarceration as a business, bring attention to the harm it creates, and deter public officials from granting contracts to prison companies.
Please join us in urging investors and board members of for-profit prison companies to get out of this exploitative business. We'll inform them of what they're involved in, and if they refuse to do what's right, we'll hold them publicly accountable.
Federal agencies and state governments contract with three main companies to lock people up: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), GEO Group, Inc., and the Management and Training Corporation (MTC). The top two prison companies, CCA and GEO, are publicly traded and financed by investors, major banks and corporations, who hold shares in the industry. CCA and GEO Group make money by charging a daily rate per body that is sent to them — costing tax payers billions for dangerous, ineffective facilities.5 The industry also makes money by avoiding tax payments. CCA will dodge $70 million dollars in tax payments this year by becoming a real estate investment trust (REIT) and designating their prisons as "residential".6
In order to maximize profits, prison companies cut back on staff training, medical care, and rehabilitative services — causing assault rates to double in some private prisons.7 A 2010 ACLU lawsuit against CCA-run Idaho Correctional Center cited a management culture so violent the facility is known as the "gladiator school".8 The industry also maximizes profits by lobbying for and benefiting from laws that put more people in jail. In the 1990's CCA chaired the Criminal Justice Task force of shadowy corporate bill-mill, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which passed "3 strikes" and "truth in sentencing" laws that continue to send thousands of people to prison on very harsh sentences.9 Black folks are disproportionately subjected to these uniquely harsh conditions due to our extreme overrepresentation in the private prison system.10
In many parts of the country, the political tide is shifting against the for-profit prison industry. Earlier this summer, Kentucky, Texas, Idaho, and Mississippi broke ties with CCA after reports of chronic understaffing, inmate death, and rising costs to the states became undeniable.11 In April, New Hampshire rejected all private prison bids because the prison corporations could not show that they would follow legal requirements for safely housing prisoners.12 And, there is growing opposition to California Governor Jerry Brown's misguided plan to comply with a Supreme Court order to alleviate the State's prison overcrowding crisis by moving thousands of prisoners into private facilities, at a public cost of $1 billion over 3 years.13
The private prison industry should not control who is locked up, for how long, and at what price. For-profit prison companies have investors that cut across many industries. Some of these investors — wealthy individuals, major banks and financial companies — know exactly what they're doing. But with enough pressure, they might reconsider whether it's worth being known as profiting from exploitation and racism in the criminal justice system.
Profiting off the brutality and discrimination of incarceration is shameful. Please join us in calling on the investors and board members of for-profit prison companies to get out of this corrupt business.
Thanks and Peace,
--Rashad, Matt, Arisha, Aimée, William, Lyla and the rest of the ColorOfChange.org team
September 4th, 2013
Help support our work. ColorOfChange.org is powered by YOU—your energy and dollars. We take no money from lobbyists or large corporations that don't share our values, and our tiny staff ensures your contributions go a long way.
1. "A Boom Behind Bars," Bloomberg Businessweek, 03-17-2011
2. "Gaming the System," (.pdf) Justice Policy Institute, 06-01-2011
3. "1 in 3 Black Men Go To Prison? The 10 Most Disturbing Facts About Racial Inequality in the U.S. Criminal Justice System," AlterNet, 03-17-2012
4. "Private Prison Profits Skyrocket as Executives Assure Investors of Growing Offender Population," ThinkProgress, 05-09-2013
5. "Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration," (.pdf) ACLU, 11-01-2011
6. "The Legacy of Chattel Slavery: Private Prisons Blur the Line Between Real People and Real Estate With New IRS Property Gambit," Truthout, 02-04-2013
7."The Dirty Thirty: Nothing to Celebrate About 30 Years of Corrections Corporation of America," (.pdf) Grassroots Leadership, 06-01-2013
8. "ACLU Lawsuit Charges Idaho Prison Officials Promote Rampant Violence," ACLU, 03-11-2010
9. "Too Good to be True: Private Prisons in America," (.pdf) 01-01-2012
10. "The Color of Corporate Corrections: Overrepresentation of People of Color in the Private Prison Industry," Prison Legal News, 08-30-2013
11. "Three States Dump Major Private Prison Company in One Month" ThinkProgress, 06-21-2013
12."New Hampshire Rejects All Private Prison Bids," ThinkProgress, 04-05-2013
13. "Gov. Brown's misguided private prison plan" SF Gate, 08-28-2013