SPLC Urges Governors to Reject Offer by For-Profit Prison Operator

The SPLC joined a coalition of advocacy groups urging state governors to reject an offer by a for-profit prison company to buy and manage prisons – a proposal that threatens to burden taxpayers, drive up state debt and stymie efforts to reform a criminal justice system that imprisons people in record numbers.

The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is planning to spend $250 million to buy and manage prisons. States would have to pay CCA to operate a prison for a minimum of 20 years and keep it 90 percent occupied.

In a letter to every governor in the country, the coalition said the lure of a short-term windfall should be rejected, in part because taxpayers would be on the hook for payments to CCA until at least 2032.

In addition, the 90 percent occupancy requirement creates an obstacle to reforming the criminal justice system in a country where more people are imprisoned per capita – and in absolute terms – than in any other nation in the world.

“Selling our nation’s prisons to CCA – which will only profit when prisons are full – will create a perverse incentive to increase imprisonment rates throughout the country,” said SPLC Deputy Legal Director Sheila Bedi. “This will adversely affect the safety of our communities and will result in countless people enduring the horrifically abusive conditions that are often endemic to private prisons. Governors who are looking to reduce crime and to protect their constituents must reject CCA’s offer.”

CCA’s own filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission say it benefits from a sprawling and costly system of mass incarceration: “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by … leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices.”

A federal Bureau of Prisons study found that Taft Correctional Institution – a private federal prison – had higher forms of misconduct than other facilities operated by the federal government.

Harley Lappin, who is now CCA’s chief corrections officer, was one of the authors of the 2005 study.

The letter cites CCA’s history, including the following incidents:

  • In Oklahoma, 46 inmates were injured and 16 were sent to the hospital (some in critical condition) in an inmate fight at a CCA prison in October 2011.
  • In 2011, the corporation entered into a confidential settlement with a woman who was held hostage by an escaped CCA inmate in Ohio; that prisoner also robbed a bank during his escape.
  • A 2009 investigation of Otter Creek Correctional Center, a CCA prison for women in Kentucky, found that at least five corrections officials, including a chaplain, had been charged with engaging in sexual intercourse with inmates, and four were convicted, according to a news report.