CoreCivic has offered Montana a $30 million cash kickback in exchange for a ten-year contract renewal. This national for-profit corporation is leveraging our budget crisis to entrench itself in Montana’s criminal justice system and deepen its profit margins. Montana legislators need to take responsibility to come up with real solutions, including raising revenue, rather than giving in to a quick-fix remedy that only feeds corporate greed and will hurt Montana in the long run.

If the name “CoreCivic” is not familiar, its former name of Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) should set off alarms. Last year, CoreCivic renamed itself in a transparent attempt to distance itself from its long and disturbing history of violating the civil and human rights of inmates and endangering its staff, sometimes with deadly consequences.

In Idaho, one CoreCivic prison was so violent that it was nicknamed the “Gladiator School.” A study by the Idaho Department of Corrections found it had higher levels of violence than Idaho’s seven other prisons combined. After settling in court, CoreCivic was then found to be in contempt of court for falsifying records on insufficient staffing, required to have extended court supervision to ensure compliance, and fined $500,000.

Montana is not immune from CoreCivic’s issues with compliance, transparency, and accountability. In April 2009, the ACLU of Montana brought a human rights complaint against CCA on behalf of Native American inmates at the Crossroads Correctional Center in Shelby whose rights were violated through en-masse strip searches, being denied the ability to properly celebrate sweat lodge ceremonies and being retaliated against when they complained about the mistreatment. CCA/CoreCivic was also accused of destroying documentation. The state of Montana investigated the claims and issued a report in May 2009 confirming almost all of the prisoners’ allegations.

CoreCivic has continued to be scrutinized for subpar medical care and inmate conditions. In 2015, legislators called for an interim study of the prison’s conditions and in 2016, an in-depth performance audit found that CoreCivic does not always meet the contract requirements for inmate health services.

In 2017, the Montana Legislature passed an important package of criminal justice reform laws aimed at decreasing Montana’s prison population, recidivism rates, and the state’s need to warehouse human beings behind bars. Any partnership with CoreCivic threatens these much needed reforms. What may seem like a short-term solution for Montana’s budget crisis will create long-term consequences for Montanans and continue a partnership with a corporation that feeds off of and profits from recidivism and mass incarceration.

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CoreCivic’s offer shows that the private prison industry is committed first, second, and last to its own profit margins. The $30 million kickback is yet another for-profit prison industry tactic to funnel more taxpayer dollars to CoreCivic shareholders.

We commend Governor Bullock for standing up to the private prison industry and call on him to stand strong against pressure to accept CoreCivic’s offer.

We charge legislators to reject CoreCivic’s one-sided offer and come together to find real solutions to ensure the wellbeing of all Montanans.

Caitlin Borgmann is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana. 

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