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The work of private prisons

The work of private prisons
/ Source: MSNBC TV

The work of private prisons

I’d like to offer my perspective on our company’s role in helping meet the serious correctional challenges facing America, including increasing costs, high recidivism rates and prison overcrowding.

As vice president of the Correctional Programs Division for Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), it is my responsibility to ensure that inmates have access to rehabilitation and reentry programs, including substance abuse, educational, vocational and faith-based programming. It’s a role I prepared for through over 25 years of experience with the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

I can personally attest that this area is a top priority for CCA. All of our 17,000 dedicated professionals, including correctional officers, chaplains, teachers and counselors, work hard every day to help provide these services. We are proud that last year, more than 3,200 inmates earned their GEDs in CCA facilities and more than 4,000 inmates completed industry-recognized vocational trade programs. According to a recent study from the RAND Corporation, inmates who participate in correctional education programs have 43 percent lower odds of returning to prison than those who do not. Additionally, those inmates participating in academic or vocational education programs are 13 percent more likely to find employment after release

We are committed to providing these reentry services to the inmates entrusted to our care, and to doing it well. It is important to us to see inmates grow during their incarceration, offering them the chance at a better life for themselves and their families after their release. This is part of our responsibility to society as a corrections company, and it’s also essential to serving our government partners and taxpayers well.

Another example of our commitment in this area is our recent acquisition of Correctional Alternatives, Inc., a community corrections company that helps inmates at the end of their sentences prepare for life outside prison through programs like work furloughs. This allows us to take a very important step in our goal of leading the industry in rehabilitation programming by bridging the gap between release and reentry.

We are also committed to maintaining the highest industry standards at our facilities, which meet and often exceed the rigorous standards established by the independent American Correctional Association (ACA), the nation’s gold standard for detention and corrections management. In fact, of our facilities that were reaccredited by the ACA last year, we received an average score of 99.5 percent.

Our value to our government partners and taxpayers rests with our ability to provide safe, secure facilities at a savings – savings that are multiplied when we prepare inmates to reenter society and become less likely to return to prison. There are a number of studies that have found significant cost savings from the use of private prisons. Most recently, economists from Temple University, with support from the private corrections industry, reviewed publicly available state government data and found that companies like ours generate between 12 and 58 percent in long run taxpayer savings – without sacrificing the quality of service. This is especially crucial when local, state and federal budgets are under the heavy weight of unfunded pensions and other pressures.

Like any business, one of our biggest responsibilities is the ability to demonstrate the benefits of our services and savings to our customers. Because our customer is the government, lobbying allows us to educate them about our services, such as our quality rehabilitation and reentry programming, and stay updated on current issues that affect our ability to best serve our partners.

To be clear, we follow a strict, longstanding policy not to take a position on or in any way promote policies that determine the basis or duration of an individual's incarceration or detention. This applies to our in-house and external government relations teams. In fact, our contracts with our government relations consultants expressly prohibit them from doing so. Additionally, CCA ended its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC, in 2010. Previously, we participated in ALEC on a strict non-voting basis to monitor public policy. For further transparency into our government relations activities, I invite anyone to review our most recent comprehensive federal lobbying report online.

It’s important to remember that it is our government partners alone who choose whether or not they want to work with us. We are one of many tools they can choose from to address their corrections challenges. Because we provide safe, secure housing and quality rehabilitation programming at a cost savings to taxpayers, they have chosen to work with us for 30 years. Without the option of our industry’s services, many of our partners would face the difficult challenge of raising capital funding to build new facilities or fix decaying ones. Many offenders would face unsafe, overcrowded conditions with fewer rehabilitation program opportunities.

The bottom line is that we believe there will continue to be a need for secure facilities that help prepare inmates for reentry into society and provide taxpayer value, and it is in that area that we will continue to focus our attention and efforts.

Kim White is Vice President of the Correctional Programs Division for CCA.