The Renewed Fortunes of For-Profit Prison Companies

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

From its beginnings on the grounds of a leased hotel in Houston in 1983 to its current status as the nation’s second-largest operator of private prisons, Shane Bauer tracks the history of CoreCivic, linking the “renewed fortunes” of the for-profit prison industry under the Trump administration with the “brutal history” of America’s prison system. CoreCivic owns and manages private prisons and detention centers worth an estimated $1.8 billion in 2017. The company, Bauer reports, “helped build the immigration detention system that President Donald Trump now plans to expand.” Bauer’s article—excerpted from his book, American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey Into the Business of Punishment—was published in the September/October 2018 issue of Mother Jones.

Even though CCA rebranded itself as CoreCivic, a “diversified government solutions company,” in 2016, Bauer reports that “detaining immigrants remains an essential part of its business model” and contracts with ICE account for 25 percent of CoreCivic’s revenues, based on “massive” deals like the 2014 no-bid contract that the federal government awarded CoreCivic to run a family detention center in Dilley, Texas. In June 2018, the company’s CEO, Damon Hininger, boasted to investors of the “most robust kind of sales environment” CoreCivic has seen in ten years.

One reason that private prisons like the ones CoreCivic owns and runs are so profitably is that they exploit a loophole in the 13th Amendment which prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude in the United States “except as punishment for a crime.” As has been widely documented, private prison companies today continue to profit from what amounts to inmates’ forced labor. In one recent example, Bauer reports, a woman sued CoreCivic, alleging that she and other detainees at one of the company’s Texas centers had been forced to work for $1 or $2 per day. Refusal to work subject them to punishments including solitary confinement.

Since working undercover as a prison guard in a Corrections Corporation of America facility—an experience he reported for Mother Jones in 2016—Bauer has continued to be one of the leader investigative journalists exposing the lucrative business and deadly underside of the country’s for-profit prisons. His 2018 book, American Prison, was reviewed in the New York Times and covered in the Daily Beast. In 2015, a Washington Post article reported that the Corrections Corporation of America complained that Bauer was “never transparent” about his undercover reporting of abuses in their facilities.

Source:  Shane Bauer, “Today It Locks Up Immigrants. But CoreCivic’s Roots Lie in the Brutal Past of America’s Prisons,” Mother Jones, September/October 2018,

Student Researchers: Kasandra Burgos and Jessica Rodgers (Drew University)

Faculty Evaluator: Lisa Lynch (Drew University)