ACLU v. CCA: The Private Prison Debate Challenge

By David Fathi

Even as for-profit facilities lock up nearly 130,000 prisoners and take in billions of taxpayer dollars each year, these prisons remain shrouded in secrecy. The time has come for a robust public debate about the role of private prisons in our society.

That’s why the ACLU just sent a letter to Damon Hininger, the head Corrections Corporation of America – the world’s largest private prison company – challenging him to a public debate on the merits of prison privatization. You can urge him to accept our invitation by taking action here.


The key question: Should private prisons exist? It’s a question being asked across America, in corrections departments and legislatures, in communities and churches. In January, the United Methodist Church divested itself of all private prison stock holdings; in February, Florida legislators killed a plan to privatize nearly 30 prisons; in April, the Illinois Senate passed a bill to block plans for a privately-run federal immigration lockup.

Here are some excerpts from our letter:

On behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, we invite you to participate in a public debate on the merits of prison privatization.

In recent months, CCA has repeatedly criticized the views of the ACLU regarding for-profit incarceration. If you truly believe that private prisons are right for our country, we see no reason why you would be unwilling to defend that position in a public debate. As John Milton wrote, “Let [truth] and falsehood grapple; who ever knew truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?”

We believe that the taxpayers who finance private prisons; the families whose mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters are incarcerated in these facilities; and the communities where for-profit prisons are situated deserve more than sound bites. They deserve a full, fair, and public examination of for-profit incarceration. 


Read the letter in its entirety here and read our our op-ed on Huffington Post here.