For Profit Imprisonment

I find few things more disturbing than the idea of incarcerating human beings for the purpose of generating corporate profit. It has been more than ten years since I first did some research into Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a private company that does just that. Today CCA bills itself as “the nation’s leading provider of correctional solutions to federal, state and local government.”

Giving a profit-motivated corporation unfettered control over warehousing and feeding large numbers of imprisoned people is incompatible with the idea of creating a humane and safe environment. I can’t imagine that anyone with a shred of consciousness or conscience believes it is possible to serve all these goals simultaneously. As that ultra-radical organization, the Presbyterian Church, stated in March: “We believe that privatizing prisons, and thereby incarcerating people for the purpose of generating corporate profit, is immoral…”

This week I received an email from Paul Wright, The Editor of Prison Legal News (PLN), about one person’s courageous effort to awaken more of us to this corporate monster in our midst. Alex Friedmann, PLN’s Associate Editor, served six of his 10-year sentence at a CCA operated prison. He was released in 1999. He recently bought stock in CCA. This enabled him to file his first shareholder resolution last November. Paul Wright’s email stated in part: “The resolution would require CCA to issue twice-a-year reports on the company’s efforts to reduce incidents of prisoner rape and sexual abuse at its facilities, including statistical data regarding all such incidents.” CCA is the biggest private prison business in the country and the U.S. Department of Justice found in a 2008 report that a CCA-operated facility had the highest rate of sexual victimization among all the jails surveyed.

CCA fought this resolution by asking the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to withhold the resolution from consideration at its May 10th shareholder meeting in Nashville, but the SEC ruled in Friedmann’s favor. This favorable decision empowered Friedmann to require CCA to send his statement in support of the resolution to all 4,500 CCA shareholders, although he had to do so at his own expense.

Not surprisingly, CCA’s board has unanimously recommended that CCA shareholders vote against this resolution. Given the likely attitudes of people and/or institutions that would be willing to hold stock in a company like CCA, I doubt his resolution has much chance of passing. Still Paul Wright reports that “Alex is currently contacting CCA’s major institutional shareholders to drum up support for the resolution, such as General Electric, The Vanguard Group, Lazard Asset Management, Fidelity, Wells Fargo…”* Alex has also garnered support for the resolution from the National Organization for Women (NOW), the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, and others.

Unfortunately, the national mainstream media has ignored Alex Friedmann’s effort, but you can read more about his plans in an article published in the UK here
or visit the PLN website at .

* (Readers who invest in these institutions may wish to know that they are indirectly investing in a company that makes money from human incarceration.)

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