Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest private prison company, is shifting its focus toward helping release more inmates and keep them out. The firm tells the Wall Street Journal it is a reaction to changing public policies on the severity of criminal punishment. After three decades of surging prison populations, the number of people behind bars is reaching apparent stability. Repeat offenders remain a costly headwind. A Justice Department study of data from 2005 to 2010 in 30 states found that three out of four released prisoners will be rearrested within five years of their release. Damon Hininger, CCA chief executive, said government clients are increasingly concerned about the long-term costs of housing inmates and are pushing CCA and other private operators to save them money by reducing recidivism.
He plans to expand the company’s rehabilitation programs, drug counseling and prisoner re-entry work. It’s a significant shift for CCA, which has built a profitable business from incarcerating people, now nearly 70,000 inmates in more than 60 facilities. The company is the fifth-largest U.S. correction system, after the federal government and California, Florida and Texas. Hedy Weinberg of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee has doubts about the company’s initiative. “It must be a challenge for CCA to implement programs that could reduce recidivism when that runs counter to the private prison model itself,” she said. “We can only hope that CCA’s interest in such programs indicate a shift away from its previous stance that ‘reductions in crime rates’ are a ‘risk factor’ for business and toward a completely new business model that does not rely on ever-growing mass incarceration.”