The largest private prison company in America is changing its name in an attempt to overhaul a business that has been dogged by accusations of inmate abuse and violence.
Corrections Corporation of America, which runs more than 70 prisons and houses 70,000 inmates around the country, is rebranding as "CoreCivic," the company announced on Friday.
The name change comes as the private prison industry is facing some of the rockiest times in its three-decade history. After an inspector general report found substandard living conditions, inadequate medical care, and higher rates of violence at 14 prisons run by CCA and other private companies, the Department of Justice announced in August that it would be phasing out its private prisons. The company's stock fell 35% in one day. Now, the Department of Homeland Security is considering following suit and phasing out privately run immigration detention centers, with a decision expected to be announced by the end of next month.
Meanwhile, watchdog groups, elected officials, and the media are devoting more attention to what goes on behind the doors of private prisons. In a blockbuster Mother Jones investigation earlier this year, reporter Shane Bauer went undercover as a private prison guard in a CCA facility in Louisiana and uncovered how cost-cutting was putting guards and prisoners at risk. (That prison is no longer operated by the company.)
Alex Friedmann, a criminal justice activist at the Human Rights Defense Center and former inmate who served six years in a CCA facility, told me he thinks the company's name change is an attempt to escape a damaged brand. The CCA name has "become a liability due to its connection with higher levels of violence, sexual abuse, corruption and questionable cost savings at CCA-run prisons and jails," Friedmann said in an email. "CCA may have changed its name, but its business model, bad corporate practices and sordid history remain the same."
CCA was the first company to come up with the idea of for-profit prisons. Founded in 1983, the company won a contract to run the first private prison in the country in 1984, when it took over a Tennessee jail and juvenile detention center. "You just sell [incarceration] like you were selling cars or real estate or hamburgers," one of its founders told Inc. magazine in the early days.
But as the company grew its portfolio of prisons and jails, they've been trailed by reports of violence, abuse, and neglect. Now the company—like others in the industry—is trying to move beyond just prisons into halfway houses and inmate reentry programs, where they see possibilities for an untapped market with less controversy. Damon Hininger, the company's president and CEO, said in a statement that the rebranding was "the culmination of a multi-year strategy to transform our business from largely corrections and detention services to a wider range of government solutions.”
“The CoreCivic name speaks to our ability to solve the tough challenges facing government at all levels and to the deep sense of service that we feel every day to help people,” Hininger said. Specifically, he told the Wall Street Journal, that will mean constructing and maintaining more jails and reentry centers instead of operating facilities on a day-to-day basis.
But why "CoreCivic"? The name sounds a little bit like a social studies textbook company, or maybe a socially conscious exercise program for your abs. Perhaps the appeal is that it removes the idea of incarceration from the company's identity—as if whisking the 70,000 inmates it holds behind a closed door.
Carl Takei, a lawyer at the ACLU who studies private prisons, had a different take:
The name change is expected to go into legal effect by the end of the year, the company said. A spokesperson did not respond to a request for an interview about the name change.
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.