To Alex Friedmann, a former prisoner and an associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center, Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America is falling short in its commitment to help reduce recidivism rates. To move the needle in the number of repeat offenders, the company should dedicate an additional 5 percent of its net income to related programs and services, he proposes.
As a shareholder of the for-profit prison owner and operating company, Friedmann has written a resolution requesting a spending increase, a proposal that CCA opposes. On Jan. 9, CCA filed a formal objection with the Securities and Exchange Commission, seeking to keep the resolution out of the proxy materials it sends to shareholders. The company says it is already dedicated to reducing recidivism rates and describes Friedmann's resolution as "activist gamesmanship."
"(What) Mr. Friedmann fails to realize is that providing reentry programming and reducing the recidivism rate is aligned with our business model because it's what our customers want," CCA spokesman Steve Owen said in an emailed statement. "CCA is investing in reentry programming and reducing recidivism, and we do not believe our strategy should be dictated by a professional activist with explicit, well-known prejudice against our company."
CCA, led by CEO Damon Hininger, emphasized re-entry programs as a part of the company's business model in September and committed to meeting new goal posts through services that help "break the cycle of crime." The company, which operates 69 facilities, said it has more than 60 chaplains and nearly 600 instructors, counselors and addiction specialists preparing inmates for re-entry, and it helps more than 3,000 inmates a year earn GEDs, a high school diploma equivalent. Life and vocational skills programs are offered as well.
Recidivism rates hover above 75 percent within the first five years of release, according to the Department of Justice.
Friedmann is candid about his opposition to for-profit prison operators, arguing that it is unethical to generate profit from incarceration. He served six years at a CCA-operated prison in Clifton, Tenn., for assault with intent to commit murder, and he was released in 1999. It was his second time behind bars, having served in a state facility for attempted aggravated robbery.
"I know firsthand the importance of providing rehabilitative programs and re-entry services," Friedmann said. "I also know firsthand the incentive of private prisons to cut costs — including expenses associated with rehabilitative programs — in order to increase their profit margins."
Friedmann became a CCA shareholder to bring issues of recidivism to the forefront and prompt the company to action. He has written four resolutions, including a letter calling for lower costs tied to phone calls made from prison as a means of reducing recidivism, which CCA was allowed to omit from its proxy materials. The Securities and Exchange Commission did not permit CCA to omit Friedmann's resolution requesting biannual reports on efforts to reduce rape and sexual abuse at facilities and the company's response to incidents.
The way Friedmann sees it, programs to reduce recidivism rates not only help the individuals build a better life, but they lower the costs that go toward housing prisoners as well as crime rates, all points echoed by Hininger.
"The fewer crimes people commit, the safer our communities are," Hininger said in the September release. "The more people stay out of jail, the lower the cost to taxpayers. Effective reentry programs help us deliver for our government partners, our shareholders and our communities."