By Frank Knaack (originally posted on Texas Prison Bid’ness)
Associate Director of Public Policy and Advocacy
Last week, a broad coalition, including the ACLU and The Sentencing Project, urged state governors to reject Corrections Corporation of America’s (CCA) offer to purchase state and local jails. As Texas Prison Bid’ness noted in its coverage of CCA’s offer a few weeks ago, this is a horrible deal for Texas. Here are some excerpts from a letter sent by a broad coalition of worker and human rights organizations:
“We understand that Harley Lappin, Chief Corrections Officer at Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), recently sent a letter to nearly every state announcing the Corrections Investment Initiative – the corporation’s plan to spend up to $250 million buying prisons from state, local, and federal government entities, and then managing the facilities. The undersigned coalition urges you to decline this dangerous and costly invitation.
The letter from Mr. Lappin states that CCA is only interested in buying prisons if the state selling the prison agrees to pay CCA to operate the prison for 20 years – at minimum. Mr. Lappin further notes that any prison to be sold must have at least 1,000 beds, and that the state must agree to keep the prison at least 90% full. In other words, CCA would be buying not only a physical structure but a guarantee that your state will fill a large prison and continuously pay the corporation taxpayer money to operate the institution for two decades. While a prison sale might provide a short-term infusion of revenue, taxpayers in your state would be left paying for this short-term windfall until at least 2032. In short, this proposal to sell a valuable state asset is a backdoor invitation for your state to take on additional debt, while increasing CCA’s profits.
Moreover, the requirement to keep a large prison 90% full for twenty years would pose an obstacle to more serious criminal justice reform. The United States imprisons far more people – both per capita and in absolute terms – than any other nation in the world, including Russia, China, and Iran. Over the past four decades, imprisonment in the United States has increased explosively, spurred by criminal laws that impose steep sentences and curtail opportunities for probation and parole. The current incarceration rate deprives record numbers of individuals of their liberty, disproportionately affects people of color, and has at best a minimal effect on public safety. Meanwhile, the crippling cost of imprisoning increasing numbers of Americans saddles government budgets with rising debt and exacerbates the current fiscal crisis confronting states across the nation.
As this sprawling and costly system of mass incarceration damages the nation as a whole, CCA reaps lucrative benefits. As the corporation admits in SEC filings: ‘The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by … leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices … .’
The selling off prisons to CCA would be a tragic mistake for your state. Mr. Lappin’s proposal is an invitation to fiscal irresponsibility, prisoner abuse, and decreased public safety. It should promptly be declined.”
The Presbyterian Criminal Justice Network sent a similar letter to governors last week as well, urging states not to hand over control of prisons to CCA.