TUCSON—The 30th birthday of the Corrections Corporation of America, which the company will celebrate in Nashville on May 16, has been turned into an opportunity for protest by critics of for-profit incarceration around the country. Tucson, Arizona, was the site of one protest today.
Sixty-five people, including local faith leaders, immigrants’ rights activists, and prison reformers, met outside the DeConcini Federal Building for speeches, chants, and a skit involving a CCA piñata.
Caroline Isaacs, who heads the American Friends Service Committee’s Tucson program, called CCA “pioneers of incarcerating people for money.” Their 30 year experiment, she said, demonstrates “what will happen when you put the profit motive ahead of human rights and public safety.”
CCA operates 6 prisons just in Arizona. And the results aren’t pretty. Isaacs’ research shows private prisons run by CCA and other companies are more dangerous and more expensive.
But some state’s have gotten the message that they will not incarcerate their way to public safety, according to Nicole Porter of The Sentencing Project. “Times are changing,” she said, noting that not a single state picked up on CCA’s offer to 48 governors to buy their prisons and operate them on contracts guaranteeing high occupancy rates.
Kymberlie Quong Charles of Grassroots Leadership, a Texas-based group, lifted up New Hampshire as an example of a state that has said “NO” to a privatization proposal and came close to banning the practice as a matter of law. Even Texas is on its way to closing CCA facilities, she said.
But the biggest growth in private prisons in recent years has been in the federal sector, where the detention of immigrants has spurred growth beyond what the state’s have experienced. Calling incarceration of a form of torture, Isabel Garcia of the Pima County Public Defender criticized harsh immigration enforcement measures and said “CCA is profiting from the misery of our brothers and sisters.”
Garcia said recent suicides of immigrants being held at CCA facilities in Eloy, Arizona, illustrate the country’s mixed up priorities. While people are losing jobs, losing homes, and even losing their local post offices, it’s time to link up the issues and demand change. High on her list: put CCA out of business.
While people chanted “CCA Go Away,” black jacketed protesters labeled “Senator” and “Banker” went after the CCA piñata and scooped up the play money that spilled on the sidewalk. That cash-strapped states and the federal government could actually save money and improve public safety by de-incarceration is a point that may be gaining favor. That’s not in the interest of CCA and other companies whose bottom line depends on full prisons and more of them. This struggle is going to go on for awhile.