National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  September 5, 2003

The Big Four: A look at U.S. corrections corporations

The nation’s big four private prison operators are the Corrections Corporation of America, centered in Nashville, Tenn.; Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, a division of the Wackenhut Corporation, which moved its headquarters from Palm Beach Gardens to upscale Boca Raton, Fla., in April; Cornell Companies, based in Houston; and Correctional Services Corporation of Sarasota, Fla.

The Corrections Corporation of America and Wackenhut between them control 75 percent of the private-prison industry.

The Corrections Corporation of America leads the pack in housing 55,000 inmates for federal, state and local governments in 59 facilities throughout 20 states and the District of Columbia. It is the nation’s sixth largest prison system, just behind Texas, California, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, New York and Florida.

In 1984 the corporation won its first big contracts with the federal government, operating the Immigration and Naturalization Services’ detention centers in Houston and Laredo, Texas. About 16 percent of its prison population consists of immigrants and asylum seekers detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Department of Homeland Security.

The corporation managed to avoid bankruptcy in the mid-1990s after the company restructured itself under new management, company spokesperson Louise Green told NCR. Survival was buoyed when the Federal Bureau of Prisons awarded it an $800 million contract to house “criminal aliens” -- the bureau’s term for undocumented aliens jailed for mostly low-level crimes, according to Kevin Pranis, national field organizer for Grassroots Leadership of Charlotte, N.C.

Wackenhut holds 59 contracts, which represent 68 correctional and hospital facilities with 42,000 beds in the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and South Africa. Most of the firm’s U.S. facilities are in 12 states and accommodate 27,185 persons across the nation.

Number three Cornell Companies Inc. runs 69 adult and juvenile holding centers with 15,945 beds in 13 states and in the District of Columbia. The firm specializes in pre-release facilities -- including halfway houses -- and provides drug and alcohol treatment programs and counseling services, said David Monroe, a communications spokesman.

Although the smallest of the big four, Correctional Services Corporation leads the nation in providing beds for 2,800 youth in 19 facilities. Its 12 adult correctional units house 4,500 prisoners, giving the firm a combined 7,300 beds in 15 states.

-- Patricia Lefevere

National Catholic Reporter, September 5, 2003

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