The Dirty 30 | #3 - Keeping Costs Low and Profits High Through Employee Mistreatment

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.

Corrections Corporation of America’s record of malpractice is not just confined to the treatment of prisoners within its facilities but has often come at the expense of the company’s own employees. In an effort to maximize its profit margins and bill itself as a cheaper alternative to government-run prisons, CCA’s cost-cutting measures have frequently been through practices like reducing employee benefits and salaries, operating on routinely low and dangerous staff-to-prisoner ratios, and not offering sufficient staff training. 

Research for a lawsuit brought by people incarcerated at the Idaho Correctional Center revealed the facility’s 2012 monthly staffing reports, which showed guards working 24, 36 and 48 hours straight without time off, sometimes without appropriate compensation and in direct violation of state laws.[1] In May 2012, a group of shift supervisors at Kentucky’s Marion Adjustment Center sued CCA for forcing them to work extra hours, denying them overtime or meal and rest breaks, and requiring them to attend training sessions without pay.[2] Similarly, a class-action Fair Labor Standards Act lawsuit was settled in Kansas in February 2009 for up to $7 million, alleging that some employees were required to perform work duties without financial compensation. Meanwhile, several lawsuits have also drawn attention to CCA’s failure to pay even the prevailing wage rate to employees, with cases settled in 2000 at Louisiana’s Winn Correctional Center[3] and the San Diego Correctional Facility.[4] The low wages of most CCA employees certainly do not extend to its top executives. In 2011, CEO Damon Hininger was paid $3,696,798, while Chairman of the Board John Ferguson received a salary of $1,734,793.[5]

Given the pay and benefit levels offered by CCA to the majority of its staff, it is no surprise that those who are hired often do not have extensive corrections experience, nor are they provided with appropriate training. The incident of CCA guard Jerry Reeves is a case in point that demonstrates the company’s negligence in training and supervising its employees. On August 5, 1998 at Tennessee’s Whiteville Correctional Facility, Reeves was left alone on a recreation yard just six weeks into the job, without significant training or communications equipment, where he was seriously assaulted by prisoners and incurred multiple skull fractures. An investigation into the incident revealed that CCA tried to cover up the staff assaults on prisoners, with staff addressing the incident themselves through their own disturbingly violent interrogative methods, which involved slamming prisoners into walls, striking them in the groin and the use of electrical stun devices.[6]

CCA’s record is further marred by the company’s treatment of female workers. In 2002, CCA’s North Fork Correctional Facility in Oklahoma agreed to pay 96 women $152,000 in back wages for denying them employment as a result of their gender. The charges were brought by the U.S. Department of Labor after an audit found that female applicants had been turned down for CCA jobs despite having equal or better qualifications than their male counterparts.[7] While this incident involved prospective employees, CCA has allowed far worse treatment of its own employees. For example, on October 1, 2009, CCA paid $1.3 million to settle allegations of serious sexual harassment involving female employees at the company’s ley County Correctional Facility (CCCF) in Colorado. The lawsuit, filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleged that female staff members were subjected to sexual abuse and rape at the facility, at times under the threat of losing their jobs.[8] In one incident, the court heard that CCA management had reassigned a female officer to an isolated location of the facility with a male co-worker whom she had previously complained had sexually harassed her, where the same man then raped her.[9]

With such working conditions, it is not surprising that CCA has a chronically high staff turnover rate. The last self-reported industry statistics from 2000 found that the average turnover rate was 53% in private prisons, 16% in public prisons.[10] A 2008 Texas state report found that private prisons had a 90 percent annual staff turnover rate, compared to 24 percent in publicly operated prisons.[11] Such practices of cutting labor costs are not only detrimental for private prison employees but also for prisoners and the public at large. As Joshua Miller of the public employee union AFSCME points out, “Private corrections is structurally flawed. The profit motive drastically changes the mission of corrections from public safety and rehabilitation to making a quick buck. Chronic employee turnover and understaffing, a high rate of violence, and extreme cost-cutting make the private prison model a recipe for disaster.”[12] In addition to a failure to provide for its own employees, low wages and benefits and high turnover rates create a labor force that is ill-equipped to handle the stress and danger of operating and managing prisons, leading to a high level of mismanagement, scandal, and violence.

To add insult to injury, CCA has refused opportunities to honor employees who have lost their lives in the service of the company. In May 2013, CCA shareholder Alex Friedmann requested a moment of silence for Catlin Carithers[13], a 24-year-old CCA employee who was killed during a riot at CCA’s Adams County Correctional Facility in Natchez, Mississippi on May 20, 2012. Board Chairman John D. Ferguson flatly denied the request to honor officer Carithers, a decision which Friedmann described as callous, insensitive, and indicative of the value CCA places on its employees.

[1] Matt Stroud, “AP Report Shows Idaho Corrections Officers Working 48-Hour Shifts,” Forbes, February 5, 2013. report-shows-idaho-corrections-officers-working-48-hour-shifts/>

[2] Brett Barrouquere, “Private prison supervisors say CCA denied overtime,” Kingsport Times-News, May 15, 2012. < supervisors-say-cca-02/>

[3] Results of a search performed in a database of Overtime and Minimum Wage Compliance Activity (January 1996-October 2002) contained on the Labor Database CD-ROM produced by the Food and Allied Service Trades, January 2003.

[4] Results of a search performed in a database of Service Contract Act violations (January 1996-October 2002) contained on the Labor Database CD-ROM produced by the Food and Allied Service Trades, January 2003.

[5] “Executive Salaries,” Private Corrections Working Group, 2009. <>

[6] “Youngstown: Will Justice Be Served,” AFSCME WORKS Magazine, January/February 1999. < januaryfebruary-1999/youngstown-will-justice-be-served>

[7] “Failure to Hire Pay Agreed for 96 Women,” Daily Oklahoman, August 29, 2002. <>

[8] “Video release prompts FBI prison investigation,” NBC News, November 30, 2010. < prompts-fbi-prison-investigation/#.UZG_GJVMaZM>

[9] Felisa Cardona, “Crowley County prison operator to pay $1.3 million in settling sex-harassment lawsuit,” The Denver Post, October 14, 2009. < ci_13555622>

[10] “Quick Facts About Prison Privatization,” Private Corrections Institute, Inc., 2009. <>

[11] Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, Interim Report to 81st Legislature, December 2008. < pdf>

[12] Joshua Miller, “Worker Rights in Private Prisons,” in Andrew Coyle et al., editors, Capitalist Punishment: Prison Privatization and Human Rights, Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2003, p. 150.