Monday, March 12, 2012


The Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) recently circulated a $250 million proposal to prison officials in 48 states, offering to buy state prison facilities in exchange for various considerations, including a controversial guarantee that the state governments would then have to maintain a 90% occupancy rate for at least 20 years.

As someone who once ran two of the largest law enforcement organizations in the United States - the NYPD and the New York City Department of Correction, including Rikers Island -and is now incarcerated in the federal prison system, I can tell you that this proposal is not only dangerous, but raises serious questions about the integrity and credibility of any company that would propose such a ridiculous idea.

For more than two decades, constitutional scholars, former Attorneys General, federal and state judges, and criminal defense bars have been calling for alternatives to incarceration, revised sentencing guidelines, and a repeal of mandatory minimums. State and federal prison systems could save billions by aggressively addressing these issues, but, at the risk of appearing soft on crime, many government leaders instead choose to skirt the issue.

Now, along comes a private company that says, in essence, "I'll buy your prisons to put some cash in your pocket, for which you will pay me an annual fee per inmate, but you must also guarantee that you will keep those prisons filled to 90% of capacity for the next 20 years."

Any logical person must ask, What happens if you drop below 90% capacity? How much does it then cost the state, and what are the penalties for doing so?

A more important question is this: To what extent will a state go to avoid those penalties?

Will state prosecutors be urged to maximize sentences and use their prosecutorial discretion in unfair ways? Will this mean the elimination of alternatives to incarceration, such as probationary sentences, community service and other life improvement programs that may help reduce recidivism? Will probation and parole officers be forced to violate the rights of former offenders, returning them to prison simply to ensure maximum prison capacity? Will prison officials be forced to overly punish inmates in order to reduce their good time incentives, thereby keeping them in the facilities longer? These are just a few of the many questions that come to mind and show how ludicrous this proposal from CCA actually is.

As a former prison adminstrator, I can say this without reservation: No one in his right mind would agree to guarantee a 90% rate of capacity in a prison facility over a 20 year period, unless he intended to do everything in his power to keep that facility full, which could only be done by violating the Constitution in some way. That threatens the very foundation of our democracy.

If state prison administrators need to cut costs, I suggest they follow the advice of Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, former Attorneys General Richard Thornburgh and Edwin Meese III, and others, by addressing the sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimums.

First time, non-violent offenders should be considered for alternatives to incarceration, where they receive community service, probationary sentences, and home confinement, which would give them the ability to work, pay taxes and take care of their families. This approach allows them to be punished while still being able to give back to society and saves American taxpayers billions of dollars.

The enhancement of good time incentives for inmates displaying good behavior could be another enormous cost savings, and would be a blessing for prison administrators, by reducing inmate-on-inmate violence and giving facility commanders much more control over inmates in their custody. Inmates who follow the rules get to return to their families sooner, and inmates who misbehave, don't. The cost savings from simply enhancing good time incentives could also be in the billions.

There are endless ways to reduce prison budgets, while still administering punishment, deterring those who need it, and protecting society from dangerous individuals. State legislators must get smart on crime and realize that there is an extremely high number of inmates in state prison systems who are not low life miscreants and could be better held accountable for their misdeeds by alternatives to incarceration.

With creative management, accountability, and reforms, we can reduce criminal justice spending in prisons, without trampling on the Constitution of the United States or putting Americans at greater risk.

Promising to keep prisons loaded to 90% capacity over 20 years for a quick buck is irresponsible, dangerous, and un-American.



  1. As a former Correctional administrator, I agree with your comments, sir. I served as a unit manager at Oklahoma State Penitentiary. Oklahoma has five CCA facilities. This post is alarming as I have a number of friends in the Oklahoma DOC who would not work for CCA. Thank you for this information.

  2. Your comments on this important issue makes plenty of sense to me, Mr. Kerik. Best to you, your famly, and God bless. Former NYPD police officer, Joe Sanchez


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