The Dirty 30 | #1 - Auspicious Beginnings: “Just Like Selling Hamburgers,” CCA Opens First Detention Center in Houston, TX

In 2013, Corrections Corporation of America is "celebrating" its thirtieth anniversary.  We believe there is nothing to celebrate about 30 years of profiting off of incarceration.  In response Grassroots Leadership and Public Safety and Justice Campaign published "The Dirty Thirty: Nothing to Celebrate About Thirty Years of Corrections Corporation of America," a list of thirty stories that exhibit the most troubling aspects of the company's history.  Each week we'll highlight one of these stories.  Click here to view the full report.  Printed copies are available in limited quanitity.  For more information please contact Kymberlie Quong Charles.

1. Auspicious Beginnings: “Just Like Selling Hamburgers,” CCA Opens First Detention Center in Houston, TX

Backed by venture capitalist Jack Massey, who helped finance Kentucky Fried Chicken and Hospital Corporation of America, Corrections Corporation of America was founded in January 1983, when co-founders Tom Beasley, T. Don Hutto and Doctor Crants filed papers to incorporate the company. According to Beasley, the company was founded on the principle that you could sell prisons “just like you were selling cars, or real estate, or hamburgers.”

Beasley was a politically connected former head of the Tennessee Republican Party while Crants was a Nashville lawyer and businessman. Hutto, the only founder with corrections experience and a former Arkansas prison director, was at the time a Virginia state corrections director and president of the American Correctional Association. [1]

Hutto’s direction as a corrections chief was anything but rosy. Under Hutto’s direction in Arkansas, the Supreme Court wrote, "The administrators of Arkansas' prison system evidently tried to operate their prisons at a profit. ... Cummins Farm, the institution at the center of this litigation, required its 1,000 inmates to work in the fields 10 hours a day, six days a week, using mule-drawn tools and tending crops by hand. ... The inmates were sometimes required to run to and from the fields, with a guard in an automobile or on horseback driving them on. ... They worked in all sorts of weather, so long as the temperature was above freezing, sometimes in unsuitably light clothing or without shoes." [2]

Despite little experience or references, in November of 1983 the company landed its first contract to operate an immigrant detention center in Houston under contract with the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS).

According to a video interview on CCA’s website, a chuckling Hutto describes hurriedly locating, leasing, and providing staffing for the first facility which was the converted Olympic Motel in Houston. He describes hiring the former hotel owner’s family as staff members and fingerprinting the undocumented prisoners himself.[4] From these auspicious beginnings rose the multi-billion dollar private prison industry.

  1. Donna Selman and Paul Leighton (2010) Punishment for Sale. Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., pg. 58.
  2. See Hutto vs. Finney,
  3. See
  4. See