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Private Prisons: No Cause for Celebration

There are more African Americans in prison today than there were African Americans enslaved in 1850. Black History Month should celebrate the struggle for freedom, not for-profit prisons and mass incarceration.
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This month, the nation's largest for-profit prison operator, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), has been celebrating Black History Month with blogposts remembering Rosa Parks and Facebook trivia contests about the contributions of African American musicians. CCA is also celebrating its 30year as company with a series of anniversary parties around the country.

However, we believe that there is nothing to celebrate about an industry that has built a fortune on the incarceration of people of color. Consider these facts:

  • Corrections Corporation of America has amassed a fortune on mass incarceration, bringing in more than $1.7 billion annually. CCA spends millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions to ensure their facilities stay full. Last year, CCA sent a letter to 48 governors offering to buy state prisons in exchange for 90 percent occupancy rates for years to come.

  • CCA has identified as a threat to its industry "changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration" that could "affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them."
  • There are more African Americans in prison today than there were African Americans enslaved in 1850. In some states, like Illinois, African Americans are eight times more likely to be incarcerated for a petty drug offense than white people, even though African Americans and white people consume and distribute drugs at similar rates, according to the Illinois Disproportionate Justice Impact Study Commission.
  • Civil rights abuses are common in private prison facilities, including in an Idaho prison operated by CCA that was so violent that it was called "Gladiator School" by prisoners.
  • The NAACP continues to stand firmly against racial disparities in our criminal justice system and the operation of for-profit private prisons. We believe that the concept of privately owned companies making profit from incarcerating human beings is intolerable. In fact, last year, the NAACP passed a resolution advocating for the abolishment of private prisons; transparency and accountability for those already in existence; and opposition to the selling and operation of any federal, state or local prison facility to any private company.

    This month, we celebrate the legacy of African Americans and our allies who have struggled for freedom -- not private prison corporations that profit from mass incarceration of people of color.

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