Note: The Human Rights Defense Center, the parent organization of PLN, was a signatory to one of the letters mentioned in this article.
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ACLU, Presbyterians Protest Prison Privatization
Posted by Jonathan Meador on Thu, Mar 1, 2012 at 2:40 PM
The Presbyterian Church is taking a hard line against the nation's largest for-profit private prison company.
Under the banner of the Presbyterian Criminal Justice Network, a coalition of the faithful will hand deliver letters of reproach to more than a dozen state governors to protest their states' contracts with Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America.
In a statement, the Presbyterian Health, Education & Welfare Association Executive Director Rev. Trina Zelle admonished the privatization of the country's prisons as being "immoral."
"We believe that privatizing prisons,and thereby incarcerating people for the purpose of generating corporate profit, is immoral and contrary to the faith teachings of the Presbyterian Church," Zelle wrote. "Through this letter we urge the governors to reject the notion that justice is for sale to the lowest corporate bidder."
The move is part of a broader effort, in conjunction with more than 60 other groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, to turn a critical moral eye on the company's raison d'etre.
In a letter sent to governors in every state, the ACLU and 26 other organizations said a recent offer by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) to buy prisons currently run by state officials is a backdoor invitation to take on additional debt while increasing CCAs profits and impeding the serious criminal justice reforms needed to combat the nations mass incarceration crisis.
Two similar letters are also being sent today by religious coalitions to governors. One of the letters, sent by 32 faith groups including the United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society, the United Church of Christ/Justice and Witness Ministries, the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness, says there is a moral imperative in reducing incarceration through evidence-based alternatives to imprisonment and re-entry policies that ease the transition of prisoners back into society. A third letter, from the Presbyterian Criminal Justice Network, argues that the principles of mercy, forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation are largely absent from the private prison industry.
Selling off prisons to CCA would be a tragic mistake for your state, the ACLUs letter reads. [CCAs] proposal is an invitation to fiscal irresponsibility, prisoner abuse and decreased public safety. It should be promptly declined.
Todays letters come in response to a letter sent last month by CCA to officials in 48 states announcing what it is calling a corrections investment initiative, in which CCA is offering to purchase prisons from states so long as they contain at least 1,000 beds and the states agree to pay CCA to operate the prisons for at least 20 years and keep the prisons at least 90 percent full.
CCA has come under recent scrutiny for its plan to "bail out" cash-strapped states by buying up public prisons.
Alex Friedmann, a longtime CCA critic and associate editor for Prison Legal News, served as a consultant to the Presbyterian Criminal Justice Network. He tells Pith that he expects to hand deliver a copy of the letter to Gov. Bill Haslam some time today.
As of publication time, the Scene had not received a response from CCA.
UPDATE: CCA public affairs manager Mike Machak responds: "This is a stale rehash of recycled attacks against public-private partnerships that save taxpayers money while providing safe, high-quality corrections services. The fact is, governments and taxpayers don't need attacks. They need partners who will provide solutions to the very serious and complex challenges facing our country's corrections systems. That's what CCA provides. ...[Nowhere] in these letters is a single, concrete solution to issues such as increasing corrections costs and prison overcrowding. ...
"We believe that other states should have the opportunity to choose whether to partner with CCA and have the benefit of this initiative. We also believe that our efforts to offer solutions that work should be analyzed fairly and objectively without inflammatory political rhetoric."