Criminal Justice Program

Grassroots Leadership was founded in 1980 to build on the gains of the Southern Civil Rights Movement. At the same time, criminal justice policies — particularly those borne out of the War on Drugs — dramatically increased the number of people incarcerated in the United States, devastating communities of color.  The birth of Corrections Corporation of America in 1983 marked the emergence of the modern for-profit private prison industry.  

Privatization of public resources, including privatization of prisons, threatens to roll back the advances made by the civil rights and labor movements.  Prison privatization is particularly insidious because it relies on putting an ever-increasing number of people behind bars.  

Grassroots Leadership put itself on the front line of the fight against for-profit incarceration by organizing with community, faith, human and civil rights, criminal justice reform, and labor organizations.  Together, we have stopped new private prison contracts, shut down private prisons in states across the country, and exposed the heinousness of the private prison industry.  The truth is that  for-profit incarceration has no place in a democratic society.  

Today, we find ourselves in a moment in which there is widespread scrutiny of our country’s mass incarceration crisis.  We continue to pursue campaigns and initiatives aimed at dismantling the private prison industry.  This is our contribution to a larger movement seeking to end our country’s reliance on criminalization.  We believe that the profit motive in incarceration is counter to the very purpose of a correctional system.  


Private prison corporations are now a multi-billion dollar industry, preying on rising rates of incarceration and confinement to ensure profit. Through the Public Safety and Justice Campaign, Grassroots Leadership works with partners across the country to expose the private prison industry, stop its expansion, and close existing private prisons.  We believe public safety and justice can only be achieved when no one profits from the incarceration of human beings.


Texas has the largest prison population in the nation and is home to more for-profit prisons than any other state.  Lock-up rates are also on a steady decline in our state, creating an opportune moment to permanently shift the tide on incarceration trends in Texas. We anchor a statewide coalition that uses grassroots organizing, legislative advocacy, and public education to strategically target private prisons for closure.  During the 2013 legislative session we successfully closed two private prisons in Texas!


The for-profit prison industry entices states with overcrowded prisons to send prisoners across state lines.  Today, four states collectively lock up 10,000 prisoners in for-profit prisons far from home.  We strive for a system that keeps families together and provides opportunities for rehabilitation, not one that is motivated by corporate profit. Our Locked Up and #ShippedAway Campaign is about supporting advocates to push state leaders to reduce the number of people behind bars instead of shipping them away — out of sight and out of mind.