Criminal Justice

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.

The for-profit prison industry enables states with overcrowded prisons to ship prisoners across state lines, rather than prioritize addressing root causes of mass incarceration.  Today, four states collectively lock up nearly 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.

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!


In January, 2014 Grassroots Leadership became aware that all visits at the Travis County Jail (TX) had been replaced by a video chat system.

Texas Advocates for Justice is on a mission to end the criminalization of our communities, to break down barriers to reentry from jail and prison in Texas, and to demolish the legacy of racism in the criminal justice system. TAJ unites formerly incarcerated individuals, their families, people of all faiths, and allies to build safe and resilient communities through organizing, leadership training, and connections to community resources.

The Mental Health and Criminal Justice Coalition came together in September 2014 to address the high rates of criminal justice involvement for individuals with mental health and substance use disorders. Focusing on state level policies, the Coalition includes mental health and criminal justice advocates who are committed to reducing criminal justice involvement for this population and creating policy solutions that promote wellness and recovery.

Over the last 30 years, private prison companies have capitalized on growing rates of incarceration in the United States and abroad. In particular, companies such as GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) have often been able to influence prison, immigration detention, and sentencing policy to ensure their interests are met. New prison reform and smart on crime policies that encourage reduced incarceration rates and prioritize community alternatives to detention are threatening corporate profit margins. Given these new industry threats, GEO Group, CCA, and a new conglomerate of prison companies are looking for new sources of profit.