play_arrow

keyboard_arrow_right

skip_previous play_arrow skip_next
00:00 00:00
playlist_play chevron_left
volume_up
chevron_left
play_arrow

Calling Bullshit

CoreCivic: Unlocking the Truth

Calling Bullsh!t March 23, 2022 1443 1


Background
share close

 

Our guests

LX7fOKGo_400x400
Sharon Brett

@_sbrett_

Legal Director of American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas

n1f4qVzZ_400x400
César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández

@crimmigration

Professor at Ohio State University, Gregory Williams Chair in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties & Author of “Migrating to Prison: America’s Obsession with Locking Up Immigrants and The Crimmigration Law”

david-safavian-acu-e1605221407516
David Safavian

@dsafavianesq

Director of American Conservative Union Foundation’s Nolan Center for Justice &  Former White House Official

Can a for-profit prison change for good?

Stated purpose: To provide high quality, compassionate treatment to all those in our care. Under CoreCivic Safety, we operate safe facilities that provide education and effective reentry programming to help individuals make positive changes so they can return to the community successfully.

CoreCivic is the largest private prison company in the world, with over 1.8 billion dollars in revenue. It was created in 1983 to address a growing problem: a war on crime declared by President Johnson became a war on drugs declared by President Reagan and suddenly we were jailing more people than we had jails to hold them. Over the past 50 years, the number of incarcerated individuals in America has exploded by 700 percent. So for CoreCivic, business is booming.  Their purpose sounds great, but is it even possible for a for-profit prison to achieve it? 

To find the answer, join us for a conversation with the ACLU’s Sharon Brett, Author and Professor César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, and Nolan Center for Justice Director David Safavian.  

I would push back on the idea that we should care the most about innovation, when it comes to the caging of human beings, there’s no innovative way to the caging a human being. Right? There’s nothing innovative about the private prison model.

-Sharon Brett

CoreCivic’s BS score is

Show notes

Episode Transcript

[SOT – We Are CoreCivic] For more than 30 years we put service at the center of everything we do. Working side by side with government, we serve people, we serve ideals, we serve the public good. (the music beat picks up)

[SOT]  Montage clips of dissension.

MUSIC: “?????” by ?????

[SOT – We Are CoreCivic] …We believe in keeping people safe. We are CoreCivic…  

THEME MUSIC: “In Passage” by Migration

TY MONTAGUE INTRO (VO) 

Welcome to Calling Bullshit, the  podcast about purpose-washing…the gap between what companies say they stand for and what they actually do — and what they would need to change to practice what they preach. 

I’m your host, Ty Montague and I’ve spent over a decade helping companies define what they stand for —  their purpose — and then helped them to use that purpose to drive transformation throughout their business.

Unfortunately, at a lot of organizations today, there’s still a pretty wide gap between word and deed. That gap has a name: we call it Bullshit. 

But — and this is important — we believe that Bullshit is a treatable disease. So when the BS detector lights up, we’re going to explore things that a company should do to fix it. 

 MUSIC: “?????” by ?????

TY MONTAGUE (VO)  

In this episode, we’re going to take a look at CoreCivic – a private prison company whose purpose is, quote –  “to provide high quality, compassionate treatment to all those in our care. Under CoreCivic Safety, we operate safe facilities that provide education and effective reentry programming to help individuals make positive changes so they can return to the community successfully.

That sounds like a worthy purpose – but – CoreCivic operates in an industry that raises profound questions about the nature of for profit incarceration. Questions like – what happens when your purpose and your business model are in direct opposition to one another? What role does the government play in helping or hindering CoreCivic from achieving its purpose?  

And ultimately, do we see any gaps between word and deed? 

With the help of an ACLU attorney, a professor of immigration rights, and the director of the Nolan Center for Justice we’re about to find the answers.

TY MONTAGUE (VO)  

To understand the story of CoreCivic, we first need to understand the story of private prisons in America, and to do that; we really need to understand our country’s history of punishment incarceration. 

SFX: Rewind and prison cell shutting. 

TY MONTAGUE (VO)  

Historically, punishment for those convicted of a crime tended to be direct, immediate, and public — convicts were shackled and put on display in the town square or sometimes whipped, or in extreme cases publicly put to death. 

SFX: knife sound

Some would argue that this was barbaric, but one redeeming quality was, it was completely transparent – everybody knew what the state was doing to its citizens.

TY MONTAGUE (VO)  

But in 1787, The Pennsylvania Prison Society implemented the separate confinement theory of incarceration. Instead of inflicting immediate pain or shame on a criminal, the separate confinement theory emphasized isolated confinement of the prisoners to give them ample time to ponder their mistakes and make their peace with God. Also known as penance – hence the term penitentiary. Both a philosophical and architectural punishment strategy, separate confinement quickly became the dominant practice in states throughout America. This practice moved the punishment of citizens by the government out of public view – it now took place behind tall walls and locked gates. 

TY MONTAGUE (VO)   

In 1865, with the Civil War now over, the 13th Amendment finally abolished slavery. However, within the Amendment, the six-word clause “except as punishment for crime” legally permitted prisons to lease out prisoners as involuntary servants to private industry. This convict leasing clause resulted in a dramatic increase of prisoners – primarily black men – and normalized the practice of prison labor. 

MUSIC: “?????” by ????? 

TY MONTAGUE (VO)   

The concept of a federal prison was established in 1891 with the “Three Prisons Act” and by 1930 Congress stepped in once more to create the Bureau of Prisons to manage the growing number of federal penitentiaries. 

TY MONTAGUE (VO)   

In the subsequent decades, the Bureau of Prisons nearly doubled the number of inmates and prisons. It also modernized its practices during this time making “rehabilitation and treatment” the leading doctrines in corrections.

TY MONTAGUE (VO)   

Then in the 1960s, as a reaction to the Vietnam War protests, uprisings in LA and Harlem, and the Watts Riot, President Johnson called for a “War on Crime,” 

SFX: Clip of Prez Johnson.

President Nixon campaigned as the ‘Law & Order’ president, 

SFX: Clip of Prez Nixon.

and President Reagan declared a War on Drugs. 

SFX: Clip of Prez Reagan.

By the time President Clinton left office, prison populations had risen more than under the previous two administrations combined.

Because each administration had doubled down on who could be the toughest on crime there were more prisoners than prisons to hold them. America had a prison problem. 

And so three entrepreneurs from Tennessee did what entrepreneurs do – they came up with an idea to solve this problem – and the private prison was born.

TY MONTAGUE (VO)  

The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), was founded in 1983 by then chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, Thomas Beasley, American Correctional Association president, T. Don Hutto, and real estate CFO Robert Crants. 

At the time, forty-one states had been declared by the Federal Courts to be operating their prison systems in an unconstitutional fashion. Corrections Corporation of America saw an opportunity to capitalize on what they said a complacent government operation that was overwhelmed with demand. 

[SOT] C-Span – CCA legal hearing

TY MONTAGUE (VO)  

Thirty years later, with over 1.8 billion dollars in annual revenue, CoreCivic is the largest private prison corporation in the United States operating approximately 80 correctional, detention, and residential reentry facilities. 

TY MONTAGUE (VO)  

Until recently, I had never even heard of CoreCivic. They first caught my attention on Newsweek’s list of “the most responsible companies of 2021.” That made me curious so I did a little googling.

[SOT] World of google where we hear the search results. 

TY MONTAGUE (VO)  

I was amazed at what my google search results revealed.

SHARON BRETT

Increasing violence and deadly violence…

TY MONTAGUE (VO)  

That’s Sharon Brett, legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas.  

SHARON BRETT

when these things started to come to our attention and we were tracking them, we said, sounds like there’s something bigger going on here.

TY MONTAGUE (VO)  

Sharon’s story of the ACLU and other Kansas public defenders trying to shut down CoreCivic’s Leavenworth facility was one of a long list of alarming reports.

INTERSTITIAL MUSIC

TY MONTAGUE (VO)  

CoreCivic says its purpose is “to provide high quality, compassionate treatment to all those in their care, to operate safe facilities, and  to help individuals make positive changes so they can return to the community successfully.

So is that actually true, or is it just a bunch of bullshit? So get out your BS detectors, folks, and set them on high because this one gets deep. 

More on that, right after this.. 

Before you head to the break, we’d love to hear what you think about the show. Maybe you were inspired to take action, maybe you disagree with today’s bullshit rating. Either way, we want to hear about it. Leave us a message at 212-505-2305 or send a voice memo to cbspodcast@cocollective.com. You might even be featured on an upcoming episode. 

————————————————-   AD BREAK ————————————————

INTERSTITIAL MUSIC

TY MONTAGUE (VO)   

Welcome back. To better understand the private prison business model and to figure out if it’s even possible for CoreCivic to truly live their purpose, I first spoke with an attorney with deep expertise in the criminal justice system, Sharon Brett, legal director at the ACLU Kansas. 

SHARON BRETT

Hi, I’m Sharon Brett. I’m the legal director at the American civil liberties union the ACLU of Kansas. 

TY MONTAGUE

Ok, let’s get into it. Sharon, thank you so much for joining us today, welcome to the bullshit podcast.

SHARON BRETT

Thanks for having me. 

TY MONTAGUE

I want to start out by just delving into your experience with the Leavenworth prison which is a CoreCivic facility. And I wonder if you could just talk about why you and other public defenders decided to take action there?

SHARON BRETT

We heard from a number of people through our legal intake system at the ACLU of Kansas, that there were problems at CoreCivic, Leavenworth that were increasing over the last eight to 10 months or so. The facility was getting more violent. There was more drugs and contraband inside the facility. There were fewer staff members around and so it seemed like the facility was really struggling just to cover the basic shifts. And when we talked with our partners at the federal public defender’s office in Kansas, they had been hearing the same thing from their clients, and they actually had seen the same stuff from their clients when they had gone to visit their clients or speak with them over the phone. and that became alarming to us.

TY MONTAGUE

Right. So what did you discover as a result of stepping in?

Sharon Brett: We talked to some former correctional officers at CoreCivic and they had talked about how they had quit because they felt unsafe at their job. We talked to one individual who had been stabbed multiple times by people incarcerated at the facility. 

TY MONTAGUE

Wow

SHARON BRETT

Yeah. He’d been sent to local hospitals for treatment three different times and he finally said enough is enough. And there’s a point over the summer where the locks didn’t work on a lot of the cells inside the facility.

TY MONTAGUE

What? I mean, whether they deserve to be in there or not as a completely different issue, but once they’re in there, it seems like you want doors that have locks that work. And you, you mentioned something when you were relaying this story that stuck out to me. Are there in general fewer guards in private prisons than in regular government facilities?

Sharon Brett: There certainly shouldn’t be. There’s no separate set of standards that apply to correctional facilities that are run for profit.

TY MONTAGUE

I see. And, but were there fewer at Leavenworth than there needed to be?

SHARON BRETT

That’s what we understand. 

TY MONTAGUE

And this location I understand is contracted with the U S marshals service, is that correct?

SHARON BRETT

Yes. So the facility run by CoreCivic in Leavenworth is under a contract with the US Marshall service, which means that it holds people who are facing federal charges but who have not yet been convicted or have pled guilty to those charges. So it’s all people who are pre-trial on federal charges inside that facility.

TY MONTAGUE

I see. Okay. And could you just for our listeners talk a little bit about how private prison contracts generally work?

SHARON BRETT

They sort of work, how any other business contract would work. So, you have an entity that needs a service. In this case, the service is the caging of human beings who are facing federal charges and they put in a bid for that contract and there’s regulations on the federal government side that govern that type of care that needs to be provided. And obviously because this private company is assuming the role of the jailer for the federal government, the private company has to comply with things like the United States Constitution, just as the U S Marshall service would.

TY MONTAGUE

Can you tell us a little bit more about the executive order from president Biden, which prevents CoreCivic from renewing the Leavenworth contract and what that might mean for CoreCivic and other private prisons?

SHARON BRETT

So one of the first things that president Biden did when he took office was issued this executive order, which called on the us Marshall service and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which holds the post-trial that convicted population on federal charges called on those two entities, which fall under the Department of Justice to end contracts with private detention companies like CoreCivic and the GEO Group and others. So once they reached their term of expiration, the contract would be done. That relationship would end and Biden’s, Executive Order prevented the Department of Justice from entering into any new contracts, to hold federal detainees or federal prisoners, at a facility run by a private corporation.

TY MONTAGUE

Why did they do that?

SHARON BRETT

I think it came from this recognition that private companies are not going to place the constitutional rights of the people that they detain over their profit motives.

TY MONTAGUE

Yeah, that was a big question mark for  me. When I read CoreCivic’s stated mission, they say their mission is to operate safe facilities that provide education and effective re-entry programming to help individuals make positive changes so they can return to the community successfully, which is a great mission. It’s just that many of those tenants are indirect opposition to the business model. In other words, there’s so many incentives to cut corners on safety, on mental and physical health, on nutrition, on rehabilitation. I’m interested in how they justify that? If you have heard them speak to that? And I also wonder how the government justifies that?

SHARON BRETT

Well, one thing I think is unique about prison corporations is that the public truly lacks access to what’s actually happening inside the walls and the shareholders of that company, lack access to what’s happening inside those facilities. So they can have such a bold, beautiful mission statement like the one CoreCivic has and completely and utterly fail to live up to it and no one would have any idea. Frankly, there’s a large portion of America and a large portion of our politicians who don’t really care what’s happening to people who are incarcerated.

TY MONTAGUE

So, that begs the question: do we know if CoreCivic is measuring any of these things? In other words, does data exist that we don’t have access to?

SHARON BRETT

Not that I’ve seen. So I can’t find data on their website about a lot of things that I would typically look for in measuring whether they’re running a constitutional prison. Maybe it’s worth saying for a moment, backing up a little bit and talking about the work that I did before I came to the ACLU, because I think it’s a little bit relevant here.

TY MONTAGUE

Please do. Yes.

SHARON BRETT

So for a while, I started my career as an attorney with the Department of Justice in the civil rights division. So not the part of the Department of Justice that houses federal prisoners, but the part of the Department of Justice that investigates state and local facilities for constitutional violations within their prisons and jails. So I have years of experience going into facilities that are under consent decrees with the federal government, because they run unconstitutional prisons and jails and you look at those consent decrees and there’s a whole list of things that the facility needs to be measuring to show that they’re in compliance with the constitution.  And you don’t see that type of data or that reporting on CoreCivic’s website. And it’s certainly not stuff that’s talked about in their shareholder calls either, because what they’re trying to do in those calls is get people to invest in their company. So if they were producing data such as the numbers of incidents of force inside the facility, the number of sexual assaults occurring inside a facility. The number of complaints received by people incarcerated there and whether any of those had merit, they wouldn’t be raking in the profits. I think if they were actually reporting on the numbers of, of whats actually happening inside.

TY MONTAGUE

Does the Freedom of Information Act Apply to CoreCivic?

SHARON BRETT

CoreCivic is a private entity. So there are some case law that say that they don’t have to respond to those FOIA requests. And I think, This has been something that’s been fought in courts before. But it’s a real concern. So there’s just this lack of access to what’s actually happening inside of there. And I will say, even state agencies or state facilities that are subject to, state-based open records laws, or the federal government, which is subject to FOIA, it’s still can be very, very difficult to get data. 

TY MONTAGUE

Do for profit, private prisons, legally infringe on a person’s civil liberties. In other words, are they legal?

SHARON BRETT

I think they are legal entities, right? The federal government has the authority to contract out for services to private corporations. They do that all the time for all sorts of different things, right. They do it in the military. They do it in industry. 

TY MONTAGUE

Right.

SHARON BRETT

I think it’s how private prisons run their business that’s unconstitutional. 

TY MONTAGUE

Right. How, how would you say the government is implicated in the supply and demand of this business model? In other words, have we created a culture of mass incarceration? 

SHARON BRETT

Without a doubt. And that’s not just on the private prison industry’s backs, right? That’s on politicians dating back decades, but mass incarceration is here and has been here for a long time. And I want to take a moment to mention, cause I haven’t mentioned it yet here, but I think it’s an important point. The vast majority of people who are incarcerated across our country are people of color. 

TY MONTAGUE

Yes

SHARON BRETT

And this system disproportionately impacts minorities and disproportionately impacts people without economic means. And so there’s an element of what these private corporations are doing here, which is reinforcing white supremacy and reinforcing a deeply racist criminal legal system in our country and allowing that to perpetuate.

TY MONTAGUE

Some of the statistics are eye-popping. One out of every three black boys born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime. One in every six Latino boys compared to one of every 17 white children. And the fastest-growing prison population is female. 

SHARON BRETT

But I will say that the prison population has begun to go down overall in the country. And I think that’s, as we recognize that prisons are not the answer to many of the problems that plague society and that we really need to be reinvesting in our communities in jobs and education and housing. That’s the way that you prevent crime. Not by incarcerating people.

We will never incarcerate ourselves out of a crime in the United States. It’s not possible to do that. And in fact, lots of studies have shown that long periods of incarceration actually don’t do a whole heck of a lot for reducing the crime rate. What we need to be doing is investing in communities instead.

TY MONTAGUE

I read also as a part of this, there are a number of states that spend more on incarceration than they do on education.

SHARON BRETT

And that’s telling, right. That’s telling you where our priorities are. So the famous saying is that budgets are moral document. And when you look at a budget and you see how much money goes towards policing and how much money goes towards corrections, and you compare that to how much goes towards alleviating food insecurity towards education, towards transportation, it really shows you where our values are.

TY MONTAGUE

Now I want to delve into the realm of, essentially your opinion around the morality of these things. Because I read a book called Inside Private Prisons: An American Dilemma in the Age of Mass Incarceration, which was an amazing book. And in it, there was a quote from a prisoner and it reads, “I realized that someone has found a way to make money off of my mistakes, my pain, my misfortune, and that right there was the biggest blow to the head. It was, oh my God. Our country is so obsessed with incarcerating us and thinks we are such bad people that they’re now making money off of us being bad. What sort of hope for us is there?” And that really, I don’t know, that just resonated with me. It’s like, it’s, it almost adds to the punishment in a way to know that you are a commodity. 

SHARON BRETT

When you think about it, the existence of private prison companies is an acceptance of the idea that we can and should be profiting off the caging of human beings. That we need to be putting more people into the criminal justice system so that we can fill the beds and these private facilities and turn a profit, right? The facility makes money if all of its beds are filled and they make less money if we as a country begin to decarcerate. So you see the private prison lobby pushing back against what I think has been a trend across the country of people saying the “war on drugs” was a mistake. The “tough on crime” mentality of these politicians is wrong and immoral, and we need to be decarcerating. We need to be thinking about ways to keep people out of the criminal justice system that doesn’t help private prison companies want the machinery of incarceration to continue to churn because that’s what makes them money. And so there’s something inherently immoral about that at its base.

TY MONTAGUE

One other topic that I wanted to touch on was I’ve read arguments for private prisons that, that are along the lines of – the government tends to be bad at things like innovation and private organizations, private businesses are where innovation really happens. And so, CoreCivic says its mission is better outcomes and a safer society. That’s a great mission. It’s also an invitation for innovation, but looking through all of the available data I didn’t see very much innovation going on in CoreCivic facilities or any private prisons. Are you aware of any innovation taking place?

SHARON BRETT

Not by CoreCivic, but I would push back on the idea that we should care the most about innovation, when it comes to the caging of human beings, there’s no innovative way to the caging a human being. Right? There’s nothing innovative about the private prison model. I could understand innovation in other industries, but we’re talking about mass caging of human beings. When you frame it in that light and you’re like, oh, well, private prisons could innovate here, you can hear how ridiculous that sounds, right?

TY MONTAGUE

I grant you that. That does sound and sound ridiculous. However, just one idea, for instance, what if government-mandated performance-based contracts with goals like recidivism reduction, for instance, to truly incentivize the system, to try to prevent people from winding up back in the system.

SHARON BRETT

Sure, maybe there’s a contract that could improve outcomes. But I would posit that the private corporation would sort of say that, well, that’s not the business I’m in. That’s not going to help me maximize my profit and they are there to turn a profit. Whatever their mission statement is, businesses have to fulfill their mission statement in a way that earns their shareholders money. And so I just don’t see them being willing to do something like that in a meaningful way that actually changes outcomes for people.

TY MONTAGUE

All right. Sharon, is there anything else on this topic that you think listeners ought to know?

SHARON BRETT

The one thing that I think is worth mentioning here is that Biden’s executive order only applies to Department of Justice contracts. So a trend that we are seeing across the country right now is that as these contracts expire and are not renewed pursuant to the executive order private corporations like CoreCivic and GEO group are looking to other federal agencies for contracts to try to fill those beds such as ICE. 

TY MONTAGUE

ICE, yeah.

SHARON BRETT

So they are looking to turn these empty facilities into immigration detention facilities, which raises a whole host of additional concerns. One of them being that we were able to know what was happening inside of CoreCivic in part, because the people who are incarcerated at that facility in Leavenworth were all pre-trial meaning they had to be able to contact their lawyers whenever they wanted and their lawyers had to be able to contact them, to prepare for their defense. So the federal public defenders were able to sound the alarm on what was happening here because they had this right of access that’s inherent for pretrial detention facilities. If this turns into an ICE facility that access goes away, and that means we will have even less of an idea of what’s happening inside and these are people who by many, many arguments should not be in a detention setting at all.  

TY MONTAGUE

Agreed. And that’s, that’s a big part of CoreCivic’s business as I understand it. Of all the private prison companies CoreCivic is the one that is biggest into immigration detention.

SHARON BRETT

And we could just see it get worse because of the ending of the contracts with BOP and the US Marshall Service and then turning those facilities into ICE facilities just so they can keep the beds filled and still have money made on that institution.  

TY MONTAGUE

And why, why do we put them in prison? What is the rationale?

SHARON BRETT

That is a question for somebody who is in favor of detaining people who are awaiting deportation. It’s not the area of law that I have expertise in and I feel deeply that these individuals can safely be in the community and should not be detained in warehouses. Like they are right now. 

BS RATING THEME MUSIC

TY MONTAGUE

Sharon, we have something on calling BS that we call the BS scale. So, On a scale of zero to 100, 100 being the worst total BS and zero being the best zero BS. What score would you give CoreCivic?

SHARON BRETT

Ooh. I mean, so 150 is not an option here? Is that, is that what you’re saying?

TY MONTAGUE

Ha! It maxes out at a hundred, but if you want to go to a hundred, please feel free. 

SHARON BRETT

I think, you know what I’m going to say here and it’s a hundred.

TY MONTAGUE

Beautiful. All right. Well, thank you for coming on the show. We really appreciate it. 

SHARON BRETT

Yeah. It’s been great to be here.

TY MONTAGUE (VO)  

The conversation with Sharon confirmed a number of concerns I initially had about the privatization of our prison system. CoreCivic lacks transparency, and the business model is pretty troubling. 

Ideally, in a purpose-led company, the purpose and the business model are aligned. In other words, the more the company succeeds at delivering on its purpose, the better it does financially. In the case of CoreCivic, and to be fair, other private prison companies, that doesn’t seem to be the case and that corrodes trust. 

INTERSTITIAL MUSIC

So, folks, it’s time to make the call. Is CoreCivic a Bullshitter? Based on what I’ve heard so far, I gotta agree with Sharon, and call BS. But on this show we believe BS is a treatable condition. So after the break we’ll hear from two experts in incarceration and prison reform about some ideas that might help CoreCivic deliver its purpose. 

Stick with us. 

————————————————-   AD BREAK ————————————————

INTERSTITIAL MUSIC

TY MONTAGUE (VO)  

Before the break we concluded that there is a pretty sizable gap between word and deed at CoreCivic, so we’ve called BS. 

Now the question is: what should CEO David Hininger and his leadership team do to fix it? 

The cure is positive action, and so I’ve asked two experts in the law and in prison reform to join us to propose some concrete things that CoreCivic should change to better practice what it preaches: Caesar Hernandez and David Safavian. 

TWO MINUTE THEME MUSIC

TY MONTAGUE

Cesar, welcome to the show. Could you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?

CÉSAR CUAUHTÉMOC GARCÍA HERNÀNDEZ

My name is César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández I’m a professor at Ohio State University, where I hold the Gregory Williams Chair in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and I’m the author of Migrating to Prison: America’s Obsession with Locking Up Immigrants and The Crimmigration Law.

TY MONTAGUE

Great to have you here. Thank you. And David Safavian, welcome to Calling Bullsh!t. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?

DAVID SAFAVIAN

I’m David Safavian. I am the director of the Nolan Center for Justice, the American Conservative Union Foundation. I am a former White House official, former chief of staff for a member of Congress, and, uh, someone who has spent a year in federal prison. and I’ve seen all sides of the criminal justice debate. And my passion is fixing the system.

TY MONTAGUE

So let’s get right into some ideas for CoreCivic. Cesar, I’m gonna ask you to go first. In two minutes or less, what’s the number one thing that CoreCivic should do to better live up to their mission.

CÉSAR CUAUHTÉMOC GARCÍA HERNÀNDEZ

I think CoreCivic actually has a lot at its disposal by providing wraparound services that support people, as they’re going through what are in some circumstances, very high stakes, legal proceedings. And this happens, um, in the context of, the immigrants who are being held by CoreCivic on behalf of government agencies, like the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. Those are individuals who are in the midst of legal proceedings, before the nation’s immigration courts. And so CoreCivic, if it could for example, focus its resources on providing case management services, providing access to social workers who would be able to, help people navigate the stress and the anxiety that goes along was, legal proceedings in which very, uh, meaningful life-changing life-altering, decisions are to be made. and also, um, ensure that its locations, its facilities are located in places where others can access them. And by others I’m talking about lawyers.So, don’t locate your facilities in the middle of, uh, the Arizona desert, for example, but instead, and in, or near large metropolitan areas where legal services, organizations are present, where courts are located.

And I also think that journalists play an important role here in maintaining oversight of these facilities. And so, locating facilities in places where you do have larger media markets, would actually provide a separate, independent source of, eyes and ears to what’s happening inside these facilities that would ultimately improve the likelihood of success for the government agencies with which CoreCivic contracts.

TY MONTAGUE

Thank you, Cesar. Okay, David. Your next, in two minutes or less, what is the number one thing CoreCivic should be doing better to deliver on what they say that they stand for?

DAVID SAFAVIAN 

Well, let me just, before we get to that, I think I want to challenge Cesar on something or maybe it’s, we’re going to challenge the topic. There are two fundamentally different missions for companies like CoreCivic, and the solutions that Cesar, and others have, have suggested, differ based on the mission set. So for example, when you were talking about detention based on criminal charge, right. You know, private prisons in the kind of way people most think about them, you know, my understanding, and I’ve toured CoreCivic facilities. My understanding is that they do provide wraparound services for people who are serving a sentence based on criminal conduct.

And they do that for a number of reasons. One is they’re often contractually obligated to do so. And two, because providing those types of services, health care, mental health, and hygiene, education, those wraparound services, reduce recidivism, which goes directly to CoreCivic’s mission statement, right?

That is a different value proposition than immigration detention, where the end state is going to be one of two things either. the folks who are being detained, are returned to their home countries, or they’re going to be admitted into the United States under immigration procedures and either case, the value proposition of providing a full suite of wraparound services is different.

All right, what’s the end goal? The end goal of immigration detention is to figure out what we do with people, recidivism is not the driver in those circumstances. Whereas recidivism is the driver for people who are serving a criminal sentence.

So I think that that’s an important point. Uh, I came back from a trip in, where we saw European prisons. And what was fascinating about the way the Europeans handle, their incarceration system is the same people that are designated to guard inmates are also the people that are providing social services. So there are social workers first in their guards second. That is a totally different model than what we have primarily in the United States.

And that is the type of thing where, you know, people who are detained can build bonds. Can find mentors, and the people that are paid to, to guard them and to make sure that the facilities are safe are also contributing to their potential rehabilitation. So that’s where I see, areas where CoreCivic and other companies, and quite frankly, other entities, government non-government can improve.

TY MONTAGUE

I think that’s an interesting idea as well. So it’s my turn. And then we’ll just see where the conversation takes us. You know, as I’ve been reading about this and talking to folks, it’s become clear to me that there are lots of issues, but I think the main issue, the issue that causes people to mistrust in many cases, the whole idea of a private prison, is it the business model? It is misaligned with the stated mission of the company. If you say that you’re trying to create safe environments that emphasize education and safe return to society it’s pretty hard to reconcile that with the profit motive. There are just huge incentives to cut corners everywhere in safety, in mental and physical health care, nutrition, education, or any other rehabilitation services that you might want to engage in. So one of the biggest complaints that I’ve heard about and read about is lack of access to actual data about conditions and about outcomes inside CoreCivic facilities, because these are private facilities, they aren’t subject to things like the Freedom of Information Act. So as, an act of altruism almost to build trust CoreCivic needs to get radically transparent, more transparent than the law requires more transparent than shareholders demand.

So my idea is for CoreCivic to proactively publish all of the data about their outcomes, good, bad, and ugly anonymized appropriately, of course, rather than waiting for the government to mandate it or, or some other, group to complain about it, do it because it’s the right thing to do. And because it’s aligned with the CoreCivic mission

DAVID SAFAVIAN

Ty, can I challenge you on something before we go down that rabbit hole?

TY MONTAGUE

I encourage it.

DAVID SAFAVIAN

So I think that the way you’ve set that up is, not merely unfair, but really inaccurate. I don’t think that you can square the statement that the traditional profit margin issues of a private sector entity go to everything from the conditions of incarceration or, the quality of the food or the quality of the health care. And let me just give you a couple examples. I was incarcerated, the food that we received and I was on a federal federal facility, the food that we received expired food out of FEMA warehouses.There is no, guarantee whatsoever that because, uh, the prisoners are being imprisoned by federal employees that the circumstances are any better.

And, and you know, what really troubles me is as a former government contracts lawyer, I understand how performance-based contracting works. And it’s a pretty simple concept, it sounds complicated, but it’s simple. The idea is you set forward standards and if the contractor hits those standards, they’re rewarded.

And if a contractor doesn’t hit those standards, they’re penalized. And after a certain point, if they continue not hitting those standards, the contract is cut. You can’t do that with unionized employees. You cannot do that with government institutions. It is not possible to do that.

TY MONTAGUE

I hear that. But my idea, to be clear, is for CoreCivic to proactively publish all of the data about outcomes, which I don’t think they do unless I’ve got that wrong. There, there’s been a lot of coverage of it being very hard to get information out of CoreCivic.

In 2005, for instance, there was a bill called the Private Prison Information Act, which attempted to force any private entity contracting with the government to agree to release information about its operations under the same requirements as the Freedom of Information Act and CoreCivic actively lobbied against it. And it was defeated. And so it’s actions like that, that leave you with the strong impression that they have something to hide, even if they don’t. 

DAVID SAFAVIAN

I totally agree with you that that’s a self-inflicted wound that creates a trust gap. I am all for transparency. It’s pretty hard to, to advocate on criminal justice matters. And I don’t advocate on private prison issues whatsoever, but it’s hard to advocate criminal justice matters when you don’t have data to rely on.

But I will point out one thing. And since, you know, kind of the operating theme underneath all of this is private prisons are worse than public prisons. That there’s not a whole heck of a lot of disclosure coming out of the Federal Bureau of Prisons either.

TY MONTAGUE

That’s true. But you can get it at it, ostensibly through the Freedom of Information Act and, and the problem there is fragmentation, right? Like it’s it’s there is no central database. 

CÉSAR CUAUHTÉMOC GARCÍA HERNÀNDEZ

I actually think we have a lot of information, about what CoreCivic does,specifically, explicitly I should say because of the fact that it is a publicly traded corporation as a result, it files, annual reports with the securities and exchange commission. It files quarterly reports with the SEC anytime it’s looking to, to issue a new round of bonds issues, statements it’s trying to lure investors. it holds a conference calls that I’ve tuned into. And so as a result, I actually think we have a lot of information about CoreCivics operations, and FOIA is a meaningful, transparency law, but it’s not the only transparency law in the United States, the states also have transparency laws. 

And so when it comes to, CoreCivic’s of its operations, on behalf of states, government agencies, sometimes state transparency, laws, government secrecy laws actually allow access to more information then does the Freedom of Information Act at the federal level. but I, I would say that of, the many, shortcomings with CoreCivics, operations, it’s not a lack of information about what is happening in its decision-making processes.

DAVID SAFAVIAN

And I would just jump on and actually take it one step further. And that is, all across the criminal justice system there is a lack of independent oversight, regardless of whether the operator of the facility is a private sector, entity or a public sector entity. There just isn’t independent oversight.

TY MONTAGUE 

Yeah, that’s a great point and much needed. I agree. David, can I follow up on, your idea around rethinking the role of guards? it seems very logical to me that one possible advantage of privatizing government functions like prisons is that private companies tend to be better at innovation.

Like if you say your mission is better outcomes and a safer society, that’s a great mission. And it’s also an invitation for innovation, but I don’t see much of it at CoreCivic. 

So a), do I have that right? And, and b) what other kinds of innovations might, CoreCivic explore? 

DAVID SAFAVIAN

I would say that it is difficult to drive innovation when, the broader terms of custody are governed, not by, the entity managing the people, but are, are governed by sets of rules and laws that are imposed by Congress and by the Bureau of Prisons or by the state corrections departments, for example, you know, we know that, people age out of crime, right?

We know for a fact that the older you get the less, likely, that the person is going to re-offend. And so one of the, ways to leverage that take advantage of it to reduce costs and reduce population is to move people as they age beyond the walls, you know, still holding them accountable, still putting restrictions on them, but moving them outside of a traditional prison environment, whether it’s CoreCivic or anybody else, you cannot do that under current law. They are charged with holding people until the court says that there are no longer to be held. And so those types of innovations are really stifled by what I would argue is a inflexible, and desperately in need of updating criminal justice system. 

CÉSAR CUAUHTÉMOC GARCÍA HERNÀNDEZ

I would add to that, that there, oftentimes there has to be a reason to innovate and so long as they’re meeting the expectations of their governmental partners, their governmental customers, and, reaping the financial rewards of that, then there is no reason to innovate.

So I actually think that the, federal and state governments that contract with CoreCivic are actually very key actors in the likelihood of CoreCivic Innovating, by demanding innovations. They hold the keys to the, government treasury and as a result, if they want to see CoreCivic and move in a particular direction, then they have the power to do that.

TY MONTAGUE 

Right. What if governments mandated performance-based contracts with goals like recidivism reduction, for instance, to truly incentivize innovation? Why isn’t that going on?

DAVID SAFAVIAN 

Well, you’re starting to see that you’re starting to see that at some of the state levels. I know, they’ve implemented performance-based contracting in Pennsylvania, for example, with some of their private sector companies, you know, it takes a little bit of time to put together meaningful performance metrics to judge a company by how they’re doing things. 

You have all kinds of questions across, the private prison, spectrum, in terms of what is to be measured, how it is to be measured? What are the stretch goals versus regular goals versus, penalty levels? It’s not easy to do performance-based contracting, and it really requires, somebody with knowledge in the contracting space in somebody’s knowledge, in the criminal justice space. Now I will tell you this. One of the things that I think everybody would love to see is performance-based contracting based on recidivism numbers. And the biggest challenge, there is something very simple. Everybody defines recidivism in a different way. so we need to be able to compare apples to apples. 

CÉSAR CUAUHTÉMOC GARCÍA HERNÀNDEZ 

When it comes to,CoreCivics largest contracts, in 2020, 28% of the company’s revenue came from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency in 2019, that was 29%. So we’re just shy at 30%, of the company’s entire revenue in each of those years, coming from a single government agency. So let me talk a little bit about that single government agency ICE, and the standards that exist. So ICE has actually going back, within the decade now, issued, would it cause performance-based national detention standards. This is a series of rather long and detailed, expectations that it imposes on all of the government contractors, including CoreCivic, And yet the agency has never been willing to make these binding. That is, it has never actually required. these companies including CoreCivic to meet those detention standards and certainly not, imposing consequences for failing to,meet those detention standards is the agency is just unwilling to cut a contract.

That’s been true under president Obama. That’s been true under president Trump and we’ll see how things shake out under president Biden, but I’m not holding my breath because the politics have not changed sufficiently to turn the agency into one that is willing to say to companies like CoreCivic, you actually have to meet these detention standards. And if you don’t, there are the severe has consequences, are coming for you. And by that, we mean we’re cutting you off.

DAVID SAFAVIAN

Shocker that a federal agency can’t figure out how to do good performance-based contracting, I think though, that, Well, two things, one is it’s difficult to criticize a company for not going beyond the terms of the contract. If that’s not the measure by which the agency intends to hold them accountable, right? 

But I think the second point is again, immigration is a different set of metrics and performance for private prison companies. The goal of incarceration for people who’ve been convicted of the crime. One of the goals is rehabilitation. That’s arguably the most important, after segregation and maintaining public safety. That is a different matter than the goal of detention for immigration, which is purely a segregation matter, 

It is taking people who have been identified as being here illegally and holding them until they can determine what they do with them. and re-entry is, is a different animal altogether. When you’re talking about immigration detention versus criminal justice detention. 

CÉSAR CUAUHTÉMOC GARCÍA HERNÀNDEZ

Yeah, I think when, when we’re talking about, almost a third, right, 30%, 29%, 28% of revenue coming from the immigration customs enforcement agency, even if I’d take the position that David’s articulating, that this is a different form of incarceration.

It’s a rather significant form of incarceration for this particular company, for CoreCivic. And so I would hope that they would be thinking about the complexities and the distinctions between this and other forms. 

DAVID SAFAVIAN 

I think we all in the criminal justice community kind of get caught up in the vernacular, all the terms, you know, justice impacted or ex-offender or, re-entry, here’s what we’re really talking about at the end of the day – when that person walks out of prison, are they likely to re-offend and revictimize people, in their community?

That is a totally different manner than immigration where the outcome at the end of the incarceration is likely deportation.

CÉSAR CUAUHTÉMOC GARCÍA HERNÀNDEZ 

Yeah, would take issue with that point, but I’m not sure that it’s actually relevant to what CoreCivic does. CoreCivic does what it’s asked to do by the, government agencies that had contracts for. And so I would agree with your earlier point, David, that, it’s a little hard to criticize the company for not doing what it’s not being asked to do. I think here the criticism, is rightfully placed with those government agencies and would the elected officials who ultimately will make the policies, the laws, and the policies that direct the operations of those government agencies. And so I’d prefer to focus my energy on, thinking about, to what extent is Congress is the Bureau of Prisons, Immigration Customs Enforcement Agency, et cetera.

You know, what extent are they,poorly incentivizing CoreCivic to,live up to its desires, to its aspirations, at least as articulated, earlier by Ty, referencing its missions.

TY MONTAGUE 

I want to, um,build on the direction that this, this conversation has has taken and this moves us maybe slightly away from CoreCivic, but I’ll start, with just, a question: do we think that private prisons and the privatization of the prison system is a result of, or related to the US culture of mass incarceration?

The reason I bring this up is because, back in 1961, when Dwight Eisenhower, when he was leaving office, his final warning to the American people was about the rising power of what he called the military industrial complex. and today, we see the U S engaged in what had become called forever wars. Do either of you worry that we’re seeing the rise of the prison, industrial complex? Government and the private sector wrapped together around the most vulnerable members of society, essentially feeding off their misery?

DAVID SAFAVIAN

I think that, that might’ve been a plausible narrative going back into the 1980s, 1990s, early two thousands, particularly the aspect related to the private sector companies. There is, I won’t use the term collusion, but there’s certainly alignment between incarceration and economic development as it’s perceived by local officials. Have you ever tried to close a federal prison or even a state prison? You get protesters all over the place because it’s the loss of jobs.

So it’s not a prison industrial complex per se, but certainly some of the actors in the criminal justice system have a bias towards maintaining prisons that have to be filled. And, most of those actors, are people who are feeding at the trough, whether they are corrections, officers, prison, administrators, vendors selling food to the commissaries all the way up and down the chain to prosecutors and law enforcement.

CÉSAR CUAUHTÉMOC GARCÍA HERNÀNDEZ

I would echo that I’m concerned actually say at the state level, this is actually a much more pressing issue because there you’re dealing with, local elected officials. So often state legislators and county commissioners, sheriffs, who really quite clearly is see, prisons as economic development opportunities or economic development engines.

And it’s not at all abstract, because those are the people who live in those communities. And often these are very rural communities. They’re isolated communities. These are places where well paying jobs, decent paying jobs are hard to come by and so the thought that your 200 person private prison facility is about to close down means that 200 of your constituents are about to go, out of a job.

And that’s a concern for any elected official. Who’s thinking about reelection. It’s also just a concern for a neighbor, right? Who’s thinking about the livelihoods of the people who live down the street from them, right? Who, make that community, whatever, whatever the community is, they are that community.

TY MONTAGUE

Okay. this has been a great conversation, but there are a couple of things that I need to do to to wrap us up.

BS RATING THEME MUSIC

I want to each of you to give CoreCivic a BS score. So on a scale of zero to 100, 100 being the worst total BS and zero being the best zero BS, what would you give CoreCivic based on how they are, are delivering on their mission? Cesar, why don’t you go first. 

CÉSAR CUAUHTÉMOC GARCÍA HERNÀNDEZ

I think I I’d say there they’re 70% BS.

TY MONTAGUE

Okay, we’ll take it. And David?

DAVID SAFAVIAN

You know, I don’t think anybody in this space is perfect. I think there’s always room for improvement. But I don’t think CoreCivic is the company that has been demonized or I don’t think the company reflects some of the allegations out there. I’d give them a 15.

TY MONTAGUE

That’s great. Thank you so much for being here today. Both of you, this was a, this was a lot of fun. I really appreciate you taking the time.

CÉSAR CUAUHTÉMOC GARCÍA HERNÀNDEZ

Thanks, it was a pleasure.

THEME MUSIC: “?????” by ?????

TY MONTAGUE (VO) 

So, folks, it’s time to give CoreCivic our official BS score. As you’ve heard today, this one is complicated. It’s actually a little hard to make this call because our experts were divided.  

Sharon gave them a hundred, Cesar a 70 and David gave them a 15. Because their business model doesn’t align with their purpose and because they lack transparency, I’ve decided to give CoreCivic a 68. 

To weigh in with your own score, or to leave us a message, visit our website, callingbullshitpodcast.com. We’ll track CoreCivic’s behavior over time to see if they can bring that score down. You’ll also be able to see where they rank on BS compared to the other companies we feature on this show.

TY MONTAGUE (VO) 

And if you’re running a purpose-led business, or you’re thinking of beginning the journey of transformation to become one, here are three things you should take away from this episode: 

1) Your business model and your purpose need to align.  That’s one of the first principles of being purpose-led. It’s why being purpose-led is different than engaging in Corporate Social Responsibility.  That old-fashioned model held that companies could make their money any way they wanted, and they would spend some of their profits on good causes to salve their souls. In CoreCivic’s case, they make money on the number of prisoners in their facilities. NOT on successfully rehabilitating them and reintroducing them to society. That’s a problem. 

2) Action is always the cure. Today we discussed actions for CoreCivic like actively engaging with the Government to create contracts that give them financial incentives to achieve their purpose of successfully re-introducing people to society and reducing recidivism. And ideas like hiring social workers AS prison guards. Or ideas like becoming pro-actively transparent with their data, and holding themselves accountable for hitting the key metrics outlined in their purpose. The actions for your company will undoubtedly be different.  The point is, doing is believing. 

And 3) Hope is not a strategy. And neither is hiding. Unlike many of the organizations we’ve covered this season, CoreCivic isn’t a household name, but that definitely does NOT mean that they won’t eventually be held accountable. Reform of this industry is inevitable. So no matter what industry you’re in, if you’re hoping to exist behind the scenes and under the radar and get away with being accountable only to shareholders and not to broader stakeholders, it’s time for a new strategy. 

And David Hininger, CEO of CoreCivic, if you ever want to come on this show to talk about any of the topics and ideas we’ve discussed today, you always have an open invitation. 

Outro MUSIC 

TY MONTAGUE (VO) 

I’d like to thank everyone who joined us today: Sharon Brett, David Safavian and Cesar Hernandez. You can find all of them on social media – we have all of their handles on our website: callingbullshitpodcast.com. 

Check out Cesar’s books, Migrating to Prison: America’s Obsession with Locking Up Immigrants and The Crimmigration Law.

If you have ideas for companies or organizations we should consider for future episodes, you can submit them on the site too. 

And if we unlocked something important for you today, subscribe to the Calling Bullshit podcast on the iHeart Radio app, Apple Podcasts  or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Thanks to our production team: Hannah Beal, Amanda Ginzburg, Andy Kim, DS Moss, Haley Paskalidies, Mikaela Reid, Parker Silzer, Basil Soper, and Mijon Zulu. 

Calling Bullshit was created by co:collective and is hosted by me, Ty Montague. Thanks for listening.

Don’t agree with our Bullshit Score?
Give us your take.

Tagged as: .

Rate it
Post comments (1)

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Previous episode