“CCA” has become a dirty word.
Kanye West cited it when rapping about America’s class of “New Slaves.” Anonymous invoked it to describe a bad financial investment that undermines justice. And for state after state, the word represents a failed approach to public safety.
And that’s how it should be. Because profiting off mass incarceration is a dirty business. When private prison company Corrections Corporation of America—or CCA—squanders taxpayer money and runs facilities rife with human rights abuses, it’s dragging its own name through the mud.
All private prison companies have corrupting incentives. One is to save money by cutting corners. Another is to promote their bottom line even when that’s not the best means to securing public safety, taxpayer value, fairness and justice. CCA isn’t the only company with these incentives. But it has done more than any other corporation to grow the private prison industry into a behemoth plagued by abuse and neglect that profits off our nation’s over-reliance on incarceration.
Ask the family of Elsa Guadalupe-Gonzales. She was 24 years old when she hanged herself in her cell at one of the immigration detention facilities that CCA runs in Texas. Three days later, guards found Jorge Garcia-Mejia dead in his cell at the same facility. He, too, had hanged himself. Two suicides in three days, despite the fact that both Elsa and Jorge were supposed to be closely monitored by guards.
These lapses are indicative of a broader problem. CCA routinely shirks its responsibility to comply with basic standards. In Idaho, CCA employees falsified nearly 4,800 hours of staffing records. In Ohio, auditors found outrageous violations like a prison without running water for toilets, in which prisoners had no choice but to use plastic bags for defecation and cups for urination.
And yet, CCA made $1.7 billion in just the last year—more than any other private prison company.