In a September 2014 press release Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) CEO Damon Hininger stated, “We are determined to prove that we can play a leadership role in reducing recidivism and that we have every incentive to do so. The interests of government, taxpayers, shareholders, and communities are aligned. We all just need to recognize that and commit to that.” The media framed this apparent sea change for the largest private for-profit prison company as sound reaction to the realities of incarceration and recidivism; that reincarceration is costly, largely because rates of recidivism remain high. Recent studies have found that recidivism is higher than average at privately operated prisons.
At Grassroots Leadership we know that investing in re-entry and rehabilitation is a key component to driving down rates of incarceration, but we weren’t so quick to applaud what seemed to us a dubious announcement by CCA. How is it that an industry that relies on ever-increasing numbers of people behind (their) bars could stay in business if it’s suddenly going to invest in getting and keeping people out? The plain and simple answer is that it can’t, unless it changes its business model.
In our estimation, CCA’s September press release was nothing more than a public relations maneuver designed to appear as if it is in conversation and aligned with the many efforts nationwide to address the undeniable truth that recidivism is a tremendous challenge -- a truth that is at the forefront of many lawmakers’ minds.
We were right to be skeptical. On January 9th CCA filed an objection to a resolution that would require the company to appropriate 5% of its net income “on programs and services designed to reduce recidivism rates for offenders.” In response to CCA’s objection to the resolution, the Human Rights Defense Center issued this press release which hits the nail on the head. “Evidently, retaining 95% of its profits isn’t enough for CCA – which isn’t surprising, because as a for-profit company CCA is only concerned about its bottom line, not what is best for members of the public, including those victimized by crime.”
We have no doubt, however, that once CCA and other for-profit corporations figure out the model for turning re-entry into a profitable industry, they’ll invest big bucks. And we’ll already be there working to stop yet another iteration of the exploitation of individuals who have made contact with the criminal justice system in order to line corporate pockets.