Letter: Focus on Prisoners, Not Profits

To the Editor:

In a Dec. 10 letter (“Exporting Vermont Prisoners”), Steve Owen, the head PR person for Corrections Corp. of America, the nation’s largest for-profit prison firm, bemoaned the “mischaracterizations” of his company in your Nov. 30 editorial. That company houses hundreds of Vermont prisoners in out-of-state facilities, far from their families.

I write as one who served six years in a CCA prison before my release in 1999 and as someone who has studied prison privatization. While it may be hard to have sympathy for prisoners, it’s equally hard to evoke sympathy for CCA, which took in $1.7 billion last year by incarcerating people for the purpose of generating corporate profit. Our criminal justice system is for sale, apparently, and companies such as CCA are there to cash in. The underlying problem, which Owen largely failed to address, is that almost all prisoners will one day be released and return to their communities. Studies have repeatedly shown that regular contact between prisoners and their families and loved ones assists in rehabilitation and results in less recidivism — i.e., ex-offenders who are less likely to commit new crimes. However, when prisoners are held in CCA’s out-of-state facilities, such as the Lee Adjustment Center in Kentucky, they have little interaction with their family members. Few families can afford to travel to Kentucky for visits, and phone calls to loved ones in Vermont are long distance and thus expensive, and CCA receives payments on the revenue generated from such calls. Thus, despite CCA’s claim that it cares about rehabilitating offenders, it seems the company is more interested in generating profit and protecting its bottom line. After all, CCA is a for-profit corporation .

Lastly, although Owen cites a Temple University study as evidence that prison privatization results in cost savings, that study was funded by CCA and other for-profit prison companies, and an ethics complaint is pending against the study’s authors for failing to adequately disclose their funding source. People should do their own research — check out http://www.humanrightsdefensecenter.org — rather than listening to a corporate PR pitch.

Alex Friedmann

Associate Director, Human Rights Defense Center

Antioch, Tenn.

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