ACLU, faith groups urge governors not to sell out to private prison giant

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A broad proposal by the country's largest private prison company to buy up and privatize state prisons has been met with a stiff rebuke from the American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of justice policy and religious groups, who are urging all fifty state governors to reject the company's "invitation to fiscal irresponsibility, prisoner abuse and decreased public safety."

As reported recently in this space, business is booming for the Corrections Corporation of America, which currently runs more than sixty prisons across the nation, housing 75,000 offenders -- including three in Colorado. So good that CCA recently sent out what it calls a "corrections investment initiative" to 48 governors, offering to purchase state prisons.

The catch? The prisons have to contain at least 1,000 beds, and the state has to guarantee to keep them at least 90 percent full and pay CCA to operate them for the next twenty years.

CCA's critics don't consider that to be such a terrific deal. Private hoosegow operators claim they save money for their clients by being more efficient -- and paying staff less (from $5,300 to $15,000 less per year than a comparable state corrections officer), offering less training and programs for prisoners, and so on. But independent studies suggest that privatization can end up costing as much or more in the long run and is more likely to produce security issues, poor medical care and disturbances such as the 2004 riot at the Crowley County Correctional Facility.

Hence the letter from the ACLU and other privatization critics, informing governors that "selling off prisons to CCA would be a tragic mistake for your state." Two similar letters were also prepared by various church organizations, including the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Criminal Justice Network.

"It is unconscionable to line the pockets of private companies whose existence depends on the nation's addiction to incarceration, a grave social crisis that exacts a huge toll on taxpayers while providing no public safety benefit and leaving a disproportionate number of people of color behind bars," said David Shapiro, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project, in a prepared statement.

Here's the full text of the ACLU letter. And here's a recent ACLU report on the private prison industry, "Banking on Bondage" -- which is a lot less sexy than it sounds.

More from our News archive: "Thomas Wierdsma, private prison exec, accused of seeking to deport daughter-in-law."

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