As a woman and a mother I value celebrations of women’s work, our social and political achievements, and contributions to society. Too often the inclusion of women’s voices, their roles in shaping history and building the world that we live in has been erased. The emergence of recognitions like International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month has been significant in illuminating these obscured narratives and raising consciousness about our roles today. Although the last century has seen in a sea-change in access to paid work outside of the home, women’s average wages continue to lag behind men’s wages, and more women juggle multiple jobs for survival than men. Still, “women’s work” as heads of households and caregivers is largely invisible, uncompensated, and unrecognized. It’s important that we seize opportunities to celebrate women and the multiple, complex, critical roles we play in our families, our communities, and in history.
That is why it feels a little complicated to critique Corrections Corporation of America’s (CCA) most recent recognition “Celebrating Special Ladies” in honor of Women’s History Month. Though complicated, as a woman, I am insulted.
I have no doubt that the female CCA employees who are profiled on their Women’s History Month page are special ladies. The testimonies about them are written by their children and spouses who clearly wish to celebrate them as “Exceptional” “Trailblazers” and one husband’s “Shero.” These letters are sincere and all point not only to their hard work in a difficult job for CCA, but their dedication to their families. I am positive that these women deserve much more recognition than a brief blog post on the company website.
Yet, unfortunately, the scant recognition afforded to these women employeed by CCA is sullied by the stories of other women incarcerated at CCA facilities. Here in Texas we have been working hard to expose and address concerns of medical neglect and other abuses at Dawson State Jail, a short-term low-security CCA-run facility where three women recently died, and a baby girl was born without any medical personnel on site after her mother pleaded for medical attention. The families of these women tell us in the exposes of these scandals that they were special, too. They were mothers, daughters and sisters, and they were sentenced for petty crimes to short sentences, not death.
What CCA’s “Special Ladies” and the women who have died at CCA-run facilities have in common is that they are not high on the list of priorities for the company. As a for-profit prison operator, protecting the bottom line and increasing profits to shareholders is priority number one. In order to reap profits in a relatively cost-intensive industry, CCA and other private prison companies find savings from cutting jobs and employee wages, benefits, and training. They also cut corners in healthcare and food services, as well as programs intended to support those they incarcerate for successful re-entry into society. Underfunded services, underpaid and overworked staff is a recipe that has resulted in predictable disasters at CCA facilities nationwide. Regarding the deaths at Dawson State Jail, Michelle Smith of the Texas Civil Rights Project said, “[CCA is] not providing adequate care which violates everyone’s civil rights, and is unconstitutional .”
As CCA “celebrates” its 30th annivesary this year, we expect to see more PR attempts to whitewash the company’s atrocious history of mismanagement, abuse, human and civil rights violations. In case you missed it, we also took issue with their celebration of Black History Month in February, pointing to the absurdity of a for-profit prison company celebrating the historical achievements of a population disproportionately incarcerated in its facilities.
“CCA’s Special Ladies” are special on their own merit, not because they work for CCA. But cursory celebrations of employees, especially those who belong to politically marginalized groups and who have been, perhaps, most negatively impacted by incarceration in the United States, takes a very special kind of arrogance.