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PLN managing editor responds to editorial by CoreCivic CEO Damon Hininger

Tennessean, June 10, 2019.


Private Prisons Part of the Problem, Not the Solution to Reducing Recidivism

Damon Hininger, the CEO of private prison firm CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America, got several things right in his May 29 editorial

He is correct, for example, that the U.S. incarcerates a vast number of people – 1.6 million in state and federal prisons plus another 612,000 in local jails. As he notes, about 95% of all prisoners will one day be released, and the re-arrest recidivism rate is close to 75%.

But he is wrong that we need a for-profit company like CoreCivic, which incarcerates people for the purpose of generating corporate profit, to address those issues.

First, to state the obvious, Mr. Hininger has a vested interest in painting CoreCivic as part of the solution. He is the highest-paid executive at the company, earning $4.1 million in total compensation last year, including over $2 million in stock awards.

While Mr. Hininger may believe in what CoreCivic does with respect to rehabilitative and reentry programs, the company does not provide those services for free or out of the goodness of its corporate heart, but because they are profitable.

That is why CoreCivic has purchased a number of businesses that provide community corrections and residential reentry services over the past several years, including Correctional Alternatives, Inc., Avalon Correctional Services and Correctional Management, Inc.

These are for-profit businesses and thus expected to generate revenue.

Last year, CoreCivic self-reported spending $1.18 million in political contributions and approximately $1.43 million in lobbying costs. Imagine if it had instead invested that much in reentry and rehabilitative programs.

In 2014, I introduced a shareholder resolution with CoreCivic that would have required the company to spend just 5% of its net income “on programs and services designed to reduce recidivism rates for offenders.”

The company’s board of directors – including Mr. Hininger – voted to oppose that resolution and killed it off before it went to shareholders for a vote.

Further, it is well established that increased communication between prisoners and their families results in better post-release outcomes and lower recidivism rates.

In 2013, I introduced a shareholder resolution that would have required CoreCivic, which receives “commission” kickbacks from prison telecom providers, to not accept such commissions; rather, when entering into prison phone contracts, “the company shall give the greatest consideration to the overall lowest [phone rates] among the factors that it considers.”

CoreCivic’s board of directors – including Mr. Hininger – successfully objected to that resolution, too. It’s almost as if profits are more important to CoreCivic than providing more funding for rehabilitative and reentry programs, or facilitating contact between prisoners and their families.

Mr. Hininger rightly praised Governor Lee (CoreCivic donated $23,600 to his election campaign), who appears to have a sincere interest in providing reentry and rehabilitative services for prisoners. But to be clear, for-profit prison companies, which depend on incarceration to generate revenue, are not part of the solution.

They are in fact part of the problem.


Alex Friedmann is the associate director of the non-profit Human Rights Defense Center and a former prisoner who spent 10 years behind bars, including six years at a CCA-operated prison in Tennessee.